By TERRY STAWAR
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Being on time is often viewed as a measure of a person’s reliability. I have to admit that my record in this regard is spotty. I am unreasonably early for most out-of-town meetings or when going somewhere new, but I’m usually late for church, unless I have some job to do. My wife Diane helps me start on schedule by setting our alarm clock, whose advanced technology is beyond me.
Fortunately at this time of the year I don’t need an alarm clock, since the sun usually wakes me. Next week, by the way, nature will be cruel as we will have the shortest night of the year — the summer solstice.
I’m one of those people who constantly watches the clock radio display all night, even though sleep experts say this aggravates insomnia. Recently I realized all the clocks I currently use are set at different times. The kitchen clock is slower than the car clock, which is a few minutes behind the one in the bedroom. In my office, it is perpetually 1 p.m., because the clock battery is dead. When the battery first died I was late for several appointments, since I kept thinking I still had plenty of time. I should have been suspicious when it seemed like time was going so slow. The large clock in the conference room at work always chimes 15 minutes too early, and the fancy clock, shaped like a musical note, in the meeting room next door, has never worked.
Somehow we manage to take all these different clock settings into account and adjust our schedules accordingly. Usually, however, I expect other people’s clocks to be accurate. It annoys me that my daughter purposefully sets the clock in her minivan 10 minutes ahead to help her get to her appointments on time. With four children, she might as well not bother, since there is always at least one kid who won’t put her shoes on, when it’s time to go.
Although I constantly worry about being on time, I haven’t worn a wristwatch for several years. I gave mine up after I noticed my youngest son and all his friends all used their cell phones as timepieces. It seems sort of modern and retro, at the same time — like having an always accurate digital pocket watch.
Technology expert Dr. Michel Floyd from YouGov.com conducted a survey of 1,200 people and found that about 60 percent of 16-34-year-olds use their cell phone as their primary timepiece. Older people owned the most watches and older white males, like me, are most likely to wear wristwatches. When all the factors are considered only about 32 percent of people continue to wear wristwatches. The cell phone and the wristwatch are tied for the device that most people use to tell time. Even among those people who still wear a watch, 8 percent say that they still usually tell time by looking at their phone. Most watches [76 percent] are still analog and only 24 percent have digital displays.
Mintel, a British marketing firm, believes that such changes constitute a threat to the future of the watch industry. Overall watch sales have been flat or decreasing for some time. With time displays on so many digital devices, watches are fast becoming redundant so far as timekeeping. Their future seems to lie in being designer fashion accessories, family heirlooms and status symbols. For example luxury watches, such as the Rolex, remain popular.
Some folks have speculated that cell phones are popular as timepieces, among younger people because many of them have never learned to tell time properly. In Indiana, the ability to tell time to the minute is considered a third-grade math competency and last year’s ISTEP testing results show that about 80 percent of Hoosier third-graders have mastered this area. Could it be, however, that 10 percent to 20 percent of our youth never fully attain these skills? A British survey of 2,950 parents conducted in 2002 revealed even worse results. Only one in three children between 4 and 8 years of age, could tell the time on traditional clock faces.
Personally, I had a very hard time learning to tell analog time and I’m sure that I wasn’t able to tell time to the minute by the third grade. If there were digital watches or cell phones back then, I may have never learned how to tell time. Math was never a strength for me. After three years of algebra, I still couldn’t factor equations, until “Ms. Beautiful Mind Diane,” taught me, right before I took the Graduate Record Exam.
Many people also use their cell phones as alarm clocks. In another YouGov.com survey, it was found that 23 percent of people used regular alarm clocks, 15 percent used clock radios, but 26 percent used their cell phone for alarms. About 32 percent said they didn’t use any alarms at all. Dr. Floyd says, “here again we see how important the mobile phone is to the younger generation: 48 percent of those 16-34 years of age use an alarm on their cell phone compared to only 26 percent of those 35-54 years of age and 9 percent of those over 55 years.” Older people were better at waking up without relying on some device to help them. I suspect that’s probably because we have so much trouble sleeping in the first place.
When I was growing up, my father had a part-time watch repair business. He had a huge old roll-top desk that contained all of his watch making paraphernalia. I am not very sure how good he was at it, but he soon found the work too tedious and quit after a few years. His desk was crammed with minute watch-making tools, tiny jewels, gears and watches that customers never claimed.
He gave me only one watch repair lesson. He took the cover from the back of an old pocket watch and pointed to a central gear that was oscillating rapidly on a short metal axis. Then he told me that this mechanism was called the balance staff and that often watches quit working because dirt or some other foreign object interfered with the oscillation. He took one such watch and gave it a sharp rap on its side. Instantly the oscillation resumed and the watch started ticking again, just like a Uri Geller trick.
Throughout the years I’ve used this technique repeatedly, whenever any mechanical device failed to work. I found that it actually works about 30 percent of the time. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work very well on digital devices, such as my computer or iPhone, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.
I have read that President Barack Obama, like my daughter, always sets his watch ahead in order to be punctual. I suppose that it won’t help him much either, especially if Joe Biden refuses to put on his shoes.
Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at email@example.com. Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at www.planetterry.wordpress.com.