Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Winding down.

I’ve found one simple tool every single person in the Western world over the age of forty can use. It will help us assess, in a matter of seconds, what sort of person we’re speaking with, his or her views of the world and how they interact in society. Honestly, it will take one or two seconds.

You ready? Here is it: next time you meet someone for the first time, look at his or her wrist. What do you find there? If you see a watch, you have someone who is simpatico with you; someone you can connect with, bond with, and someone with whom you can laugh off the quirks of life. You are very likely to have the following in common: they remember going to banks to cash a paycheck, missing phone calls and television shows because they weren’t at home, getting busy signals, and unfolding then reading maps while driving or buying convenient Trip Tiks from AAA. They remember using IBM Selectrics, turning handles to roll down car windows and drinking something vile yet addictive called Tab.

Now, look at that wrist again. If it’s empty, they know none of this. They share very little of your life experiences. In fact, it would be nearly impossible for any of them to imagine not having the following options available to them: getting cash from a bank 24 hours a day, sending text messages and getting a nearly immediate response from the one or the forty people who receive it, watching almost any television show they want to whenever they want to watch it, or following a satellite navigational system in the car to reach an unfamiliar destination. They don’t know how a backspace key corrected an error on a typewriter, or how a window could get lowered on the passenger side of car from the driver’s side, or why anyone would drink anything other than Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper or Cherry Coke Zero.

Decades ago, the generational lines were drawn according to hairstyles. Or clothing, or music, or even by the kinds of books we read. People who "got it" read Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and listened to Dylan; people who didn't read William F. Buckley and Ayn Rand and listened to the Kingston Trio.

Those examples are so last century. Seems that the new generational divide has emerged on our wrists. People who belong to the uber-wired and connected generation have never worn watches and probably never will. The older-but-forced–to-be-wired among us wear watches…everyday. Possible exception to our rule: weekends, or vacations, when we want to feel “free.” How very hip we are.

No, younger people don’t seem to “get” the idea of a watch. They have cell phones. Why wear a watch that gives you the date and time? And? That’s it? Please. There’s an app that will also give them the time in Uzbekistan if they want it.

Like much of the wired gadgetry that surrounds us, this makes me a little sad. What will young men pass along to their sons fifty years or sixty from now? It won’t be the classic Hamilton or the stylish Movado or the elegant Rolex. Somehow, cherishing Dad’s vintage Blackberry or elegant I-phone doesn’t sound quite so special.

What feels somewhat lost to me here is the simple “nature” of the thing itself. The idea of a watch, that spent the better part of its working life attached to the wrist of a beloved father, or uncle or grandfather that now ticks away quietly against another wrist during another lifetime is somehow reassuring and constant. The wristwatch a mother wore as she wound her way through a typical day that included family and job and all manner of activities at the turn of the millennium that is then clasped around her granddaughter’s wrist circa 2050 sounds delightful, doesn’t it?

Meh, as the kids say. Yes, perhaps this is an overstatement of reality but for how long? Who can say? Maybe sentiment like this is also so twentieth century.


Richard said...

Jesus, are you trying to make me cry. I have my Father's retirement watch on my chest of drawers, but hardly ever wear it for fear of breaking it. It's a Hamilton that he got for 43 years of loyal service to Mack Trucks. He died in 1983.

The ONLY piece of jewelry I wear is a cheap Caravelle watch. I don't even wear my wedding band anymore, have nothing pierced. (Piercings, there's another key indicator.) Oh, and my watch must have a sweep second hand. I used to be a volunteer EMT, need a sweep hand to take a pulse.

renee said...

Sorry Richard! Not trying to make you cry but I love the story about your Dad's watch. Just lovely and exactly what I'm talking about here.

Another indicator: no one under 30 has ever heard the phrase "sweep second hand." Sorry. We are just that old.


Chris Casey said...

Here's one thing I hope never goes out of style: Wedding bands. My Dad dies 20 months before I was married. My Mother gave me his Wedding band (He died 3 months before what would have been their 50th Anniversary) My wife put that band on my finger, and it is still there. I don't have any kids, and God knows what will happen to it, but it hold sentimental value at least to me.

renee said...

Hi Chris -

Thanks for sharing your story.

I had a dear aunt and uncle who had no children, and treated my siblings and I in a very special way. After my uncle died (suddenly at age 53), my aunt wore his wedding band on a necklace chain for the rest of her life.

It was fortunate she did. Years and years after he died, her house was burglarized while she was away and she lost every piece of jewelry she owned, except my uncle's wedding band. Which, of course, was the only one she truly cherished.

I'm sure your ring will find a new owner many years from now. It carries a wonderful story that needs to be shared.

Thanks again for your note.