We have come a very long way since the St Louis World Fair and those quaint spring-wound Plato Clocks.
The clock had a set of Rolodex type digit cards, the hours at the top, the minutes beneath.The whole thing was spring-wound. What a work of art, obsolete but intricate.
Fast forward just over a century, and the digital dream has been made possible because of the miracle of quartz. It was in 1968 that a prototype digital wristwatch was produced for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Two years later, the Pulsar hit the stores, a mass-produced digital watch. Clockwork is dead: long live quartz.
The graceless things that sat on our wrists for decades are far less favoured now. Now, we like a nice dial, albeit quartz driven.
Unless our name is Felix Shrewsday.
We had a long solemn discussion about earning points towards a watch. Felix hankered after one, but he has been grumpy lately. We brainstormed what constitutes polite behaviour. And for many weeks now he has been working on polite body language and polite dealings with his family. And finally, he has earned the requisite amount of points to acquire the watch of his dreams.
“Can I have a digital watch please?” he enquired.
That did not go down well with a teacher mother. Where’s the learning in a digital watch? But Felix was adamant. So his father looked on eBay, and found a joke-large one for £2.99.
Despite his delight when it arrived a couple of days later, I winced as Felix put it on his wrist to wear to school. Yes, it was as big as some small television screens, but Felix’s hero, his father, had bought it; and it was certainly a signature piece in any outfit. With its huge red display, Felix pointed out earnestly, it matched his school uniform.
I grimaced and acquiesced. But within three days the watch was home: its strap had broken.
So, we searched and found one with bells and bleeps and calendars, one on which the colour of the dial illumination changes during the day, though we have not worked out why.
Felix loves the bleeps.
He spent a long time working out why it bleeps, and specifically when it bleeps, and how to make it bleep. And he put the watch on his arm and headed, proud and delighted, off to school.
It turns out that bleeps are a pull for quite a lot of people. One of Felix’s fellow football team players took a liking to the first giant watch and turned up with the outrageously large display on his wrist. But it didn’t bleep; so it fell to most of the other boys in his class to badger their parents into getting digital watches that bleeped and played little tunes and ditties and sang in tiny mosquito tones of the passing of the hours.
About two days ago, the digital retro revolution in Year Five was complete. The majority of boys now had enough bleeping hardware on their wrists to rival the crew of the Starship Enterprise.
Perhaps you can anticipate the consequences.
Felix’s teacher is a straightforward soul, who works hard and strives to control the spirited bunch of comrades that is Year Five.
Two days ago, whilst nine o’clock passed in a flurry of administration, ten o’clock was right in a silent moment of study.
And all of a sudden, a cacophony of tiny bleeping devices set up a small electronic atonal symphony that Schoenberg himself would be proud of.
And so passed every hour until the teacher, nerves frayed and protesting, ordered that every single watch be put on silent.
Reluctantly, Felix and his classmates did as they were told.
And so silence is no longer golden: but a sort of matt black plastic with Hal-approved soundless blinking time, counting the lessons away.