My old watch

I was sitting in a conference room in a meeting one day, when someone asked how much time was left, and people started looking, some looked into their laptop screens at the bottom right corner, others took out their mobile phones to check the time, some other were searching for the LED displayed somewhere near the door of our room the time. I simply glanced at my hand and was able to tell the time.

Yes, I was wearing a wrist watch, a pretty old looking, rugged, slightly rusted wrist watch. One of them commented “how old school are you to be still wearing that. At least tell me it is battery powered.” And the group smiled,

There was a time when the biggest marvel of the world was a watch. a mechanical watch, that was functioning purely using energy stored in a spring. Yes, it seems to be a stretch today, how much energy can be stored in a spring, well apparently the one needed to run a watch, for a very long time. My own first watch was mechanical, I needed to wind it up every day, and the watch ran for a whole day.

Some of the most intelligent people of the generation were watch makers, Just open up a mechanical watch and see all the intricate fine design, and do know that these designs were not created on some fancy computer software, these were made on paper. The watches existed before the industrial revolution, so each tiny piece of the watch was created and assembled by direct human labor. There were innovations in the watch, so that some watches function without a spring, but by movement of wearer’s hand. If he walked with moving hands, the spring got wound automatically. etc..

The watch that was tied around my hand was a representation of contribution of some extremely smart people around the world, who came together to build something so incredible, that even today if you try to design one from scratch you can see how hard it would have been. It was a representation of how so many small pieces of metal that were nearly useless separately come  together to run something so effectively and accurately that people can rely on them almost blindly. And if small parts become faulty, worn out, the other parts supported the functioning, so that the watch never stop. But if any small part broke or was removed, some critical function of the watch will stop functioning indefinitely, until the part is replaced.

Even today, some extremely smart friends of my father are watch makers of watch repairmen. They don’t earn the most handsome salaries around the town, nor are they involved in the political and social movements occurring in the town. But they knew their role, as a watch maker, as insignificant as they might seem, without them the society will cease to do some of its most important functions. Everyone had their place in the society.

As the science progressed, we removed the spring and used a battery powered watch, then the dials were removed and we replaced it with a digital display, and so many intricate small components were replaced by a handful of bigger components. These components were standardized, so they became easy to replace, easy to understand, and no longer had the requirement for them to be designed and made together, specially for each other, and the watch repairmen were not needed to be so smart anymore.

I am not complaining because the glory and need for intellectuals have reduced, but the small piece of history tied to my hand tells me the marvels that were achieved, and slowly and slowly how standardization is removing the glory of the craft.



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