Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Analog Man

I got a new watch the other day. It's an automatic watch -- the kind that winds itself through the motion of your arm through the day. You move; things spin; it winds.

I am not sure why I like watches so much. I'm not a jewelry or clothing kind of guy. It might be echoes in my DNA of the grandfather I never met, Joseph Tancredi, a watchmaker from Philadelphia. (He also made timers on bombs for WWII.) He died when my mom was way too young to lose a father...

Maybe there is enough of him in me, though, that I have an affinity for the things. I'm not rich, so I can't really afford to own more than one or two, but I like having one.

The one I got, as I say, is an "automatic," or self-winding watch. The finest watch I have ever had, but not so fine by the standards of the real collectors.

I've never wanted anything digital, even when I was a kid and the hideous -- but strangely seductive -- calculator watches came out. I want to see hands and Roman numerals. I want to hear a tick. In this particular watch, there are small views into the workings. You can see some of the jewels and a spring and some working cogs (or sprockets -- never was sure of the difference, ever since Spacely Sprockets and Cogswell Cogs from The Jetsons first raised the question when I was a boy).

The other day I watched a video about care of automatic watches, because, when I get something new, I feel about a week of a real need to know all there is to know about it. I have even been reading about the history of Bulova, the company that made the watch...

At any rate, the guy in the video said something compelling:

"The beauty of having an automatic watch is that at some point human hands have had to come in contact with it to balance it, to regulate it and to get it to run... It's when that craftsman, that watchmaker, assembles that movement and breathes life into it that it gains, well, kind of a soul."

Yeah, man, I'm all in. I was an analog kid; I'll not turn into a digital man. You can have your Apple Watch with its perfect time. I'll set my watch daily and think about craftsman and the springs and the sprockets and the hundred tiny parts that move each other like tangible harmony; none of them virtual; none of them holographic.

The digital men can sit bolt-upright or slide out of their plastic and metal chairs, sterilized and cool. I'll be reclining in the crook of an old tree, a mile away from my phone if you need me, aware of the time but way more concerned with how it passes than whether it is flawless...

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