Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Why I Don't Wear a Watch

Growing up, I was fascinated by calendars. I kept my calendars from years past, because it was just so interesting. I had my own perpetual calendar, and I was so excited about all the patterns in the dates. There are many fascinating patterns, such as the fact that my younger sister's birthday falls on the same day of the week as my birthday, which is, in turn, the same day of the week as Christmas and January 1 of the next year.

I was also fascinated by clocks and the concept of time. I had a digital clock in my bedroom (back in the day, that was pretty cool!), and I was always waking up and taking a peek at the time all night long. I was also interested in time, and how long it took to do one thing or another. When I was ten, I got a digital watch complete with a stopwatch feature, and I was in heaven! I could time everything, and I did. As a teen, I developed a skin allergy to metal, and the metal back of the watch caused my skin to break out. I stopped wearing my watch, and started carrying it in my pocket. In college, I even got a pocket watch.

In 2001, I did a summer internship at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque. I flew to Albuquerque, so I couldn't take with me anything more than I could pack in my luggage. At that point I got a travel alarm clock. It was the type with a liquid-crystal display, and a button you could push to backlight it if you wanted to see the time in the dark. At first I found it disconcerting not to be able to see what time it was when I woke up at night. Soon, however, I found that I slept better through the night, because I wasn't constantly interrupting my own sleep by opening one eye, seeing the time, and computing how much longer I had before that alarm went off.

When I returned home, I got rid of the clock in the bedroom. Not only was the presence of a clock disruptive, but the light coming from it made it hard to sleep. I just used my travel alarm clock instead. It's been that way in our bedroom ever since.

I've also found that it's easier to get up in the morning after an uninterrupted night of sleep. And I rarely, if ever, set the alarm anymore. I usually wake up at about the same time every morning, so I don't need any help unless I have to get up earlier than usual, or if I have an important appointment.

I've found that I have a fairly good sense of time. I usually know approximately what time it is, within a half hour. I sit in front of a computer that displays the time all day, so I have no need for a watch during the day. Outside of my office, if I really need to know the time, I can use other cues such as the chiming from clocktowers, bank clocks, and the time stamps on receipts.

In some ways I'm probably rebelling against the pressures of society. I don't want my life to be ruled by the clock, so I deliberately isolate myself from it if I don't need it. On the other hand, I am respectful enough of other people's constraints that I always strive to show up on time. I can't remember missing an appointment or showing up late to anything in the past five years.

I find myself getting tense when my life is completely boxed in by time. That was something I didn't like about interviewing: thirty minutes with this person or that one, fifty minutes of giving a seminar, followed by ten minutes for questions, one hour for lunch, then an hour with another person... It was all so constraining. With some people ten minutes would have sufficed; with others I could have spent two hours, and it would not be enough, but the schedule dictated that I spend a certain amount of time. I understand why it's done that way, but it still seems inefficient in some ways.

I guess the point of this rambling entry is that I don't wear a watch for reasons beyond the fact that I'm allergic to metal. My inner mathematician is fascinated by the measurement of time, but ultimately, I don't want to be constrained by a clock if I don't have to be.


Gregg Guetschow said...

I am fascinated by the paradox between taking up a career in mathematics and the avoidance of measuring time. The measurement of time is, of course, artificial or constructed. Despite its importance in areas such as train schedules, it is not natural for us to measure time so precisely. I sometimes wonder what society would be like if clocks had not been invented.

It has been 14 or 15 years since my last watch broke and I concluded that I really did not need to replace it. Like you, I have a fairly good sense of what time it is.

As it appears that your graduate studies are nearing completion and you might have a bit of time (precisely measured or otherwise) for pleasure reading, I would call to your attention a fascinating bit of fiction on the subject of different conceptions of time -- Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman.

Thanks for some interesting observations. It is always a pleasure to read what you have written.

Rachel said...

It's a LOT easier to know what time it is than one might think. I am a serial watch wearer -- I wear a watch until the strap breaks, then I put off getting a new strap (sometimes for as much as a year!) and live La Vida Watchless (You learn pretty quickly where all the nearby clocks are!) until I get the watch fixed.

I have found that people who are habitually late are late because they don't think it's a big deal to be late, not because they don't know what time it is. Or they've got a toddler.