I have not worn a watch for over 12 years. Ironically (given the theme of this blog) I can name to the minute the event that prompted me to take that decision.
In February 2011 I was living in Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand. It had been my home for the previous 30 years. On the 22nd of that month, at 12.51 pm (NZT) a magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit Christchurch. Many buildings were destroyed, and homes wrecked. 185 people were killed – three of them friends of mine.
Following that event, knowing the precise time seemed irrelevant. All that mattered in the minutes and hours after the earthquake was to ensure that children, the elderly, and those with disabilities were safe, comforted and/or supported. All that mattered was that people cared. All that mattered was NOW.
There was no need to know the time in order to be someplace. Someplace was HERE. There was no need to make appointments. Appointments were HERE and NOW.
Somewhere in the midst of the chaos, debris, destruction, and the empathy, caring and thoughtfulness of people, I took off my watch and did not go looking for it again. At the time this was not a conscious decision.
Now it is! Now, I have decided that wearing a watch is a waste of time.
Why do we wear watches? When I was young, one of the signifiers of “growing up” was to acquire a watch. It was sign of maturity, or at least a recognition that I was to become responsible. (I now recognise this to be a flawed idea.)
Perhaps the unstated mythology around watch wearing is that we do so in order to know how many minutes or hours we have to be able to get to somewhere else. Wearing a watch may direct our attention towards the future.
Simply put, wearing a watch indicates that we are no longer present. Even though we may know the precise time, we are not present with that time. In his bestselling book The Power of Now, Eckart Tolle tells us that, “The more you are focused on time - past and present – the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”1
A common complaint I hear is that someone does not have enough time. Yet, it is our steadfast focus on being accurate in knowing the time that contributes to this grievance. In having ready access to the exact time on one’s wrist (or on the ubiquitous phone) we become limited by time.
Famously, Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple Inc.) did not wear a watch. When asked one day by his daughter the reason for not doing so, Jobs replied, “I don’t want to be bound by time.”
Yet, sadly, we seem to mistakenly believe that wearing a watch, and having instant knowledge of the time, makes us more productive, and better prepared.
Being “bound by time” can lead to frustration, anxiety, and depression. For many in today’s world, these ills are chronic. Many people never get the chance to relax. There is an increasing pressure to be constantly and continuously available, and kept slave to timetables and time constraints.
Surely, such a state cannot be healthy. Yet, punctuality and conscientiousness are extolled in today’s world of increased productivity and the relentless desire for achievement and progress.
There does seem to be some evidence suggesting that wearing a watch makes the wearer more conscientious. A 2015 research paper by psychologists in the U.K. indicates that those who wear a watch may be up to 15% more conscientious that those who do not. Indeed, showing this was the objective of the research.2
Interestingly, however, buried amongst the statistics in this paper is another correspondence between wearing and not wearing a watch and openness to experience.
Those who did not wear a watch were more likely (by around 11%) to be open to experience than those who wore a watch.
These results beg the question: Do we prefer to be conscientious and on time, or do we prefer to experience the world and our role in it?
I would argue for the latter. It can be argued that one of the (many) reasons for the various ills of the world is that we are disconnected from experiencing fully that world.
By binding ourselves to time we would seem to be wasting our time.
1. Tolle, Eckhart, The Power of Now, New World Library, Novato, California, 2004
2. David Ellis (Lancaster University) & Rob Jenkins (University of York), Watch wearing as a marker of conscientiousness, PeerJ 3:e1210; DOI 10.7717/peerj.1210, August 2015