The Apple Watch is the enemy of mindfulness – mechanical watches will keep you saneMatthew Canning
You know what sounds nice? Mindfulness. You know — being in the moment. Noting your breath, checking in on the breeze, and focusing on the feeling of your ass in the chair and your feet on the ground. All that good stuff.
I wouldn’t really know, though. I’ve been trying to make some mindfulness progress for years, and — while I’m proud to report that I’ve found myself in the moment for a few seconds here and there — any such successes have been fleeting. I’ve tried a few things over the years. Books. Apps. Transcendental meditation. A Groupon-subsidised trip to a “float tank.” No dice. Nothing stuck. I’ve always been wired like this, but as my life has grown more complicated over the years, it’s become even harder to place myself squarely in the moment, and I’m sure the pace of my career hasn’t helped.
Speaking of my career — since this is a watch article, after all — let me tell you about something I find fascinating. I’ve led technology organisations for many years now, so I’ve spent a good deal of my adult life interacting with software engineers and technology business leaders. These colleagues have hailed from countless parts of the world and touted varied professional histories, but nearly all of them have one feature in common.
Almost every one of them is wearing an Apple Watch right now.
The Apple Watch has become so ubiquitous in my industry that it’s almost shocking to see someone wear anything but. I squint and zoom in on video calls, trying to decipher the make and model of the occasional pixelated non-smart watch I encounter.
I’ve never wanted a smart watch. Don’t get me wrong, they’re arguably one of the most impressive and practical implementations of communications technology made available in recent years (and the manifestation of my childhood fantasy of owning a working Dick Tracy watch), but here’s the thing: I don’t want another piece of digital technology. I realise that sounds silly coming from a career technologist with obnoxious progressive futurist leanings, but it’s true. The digital world is clawing at me from all sides like crazed paparazzi, and I can’t bear the idea of another electronic device near me — let alone attached to me — vying for my attention. I already suffer from “phantom vibration syndrome” from time to time, which, if you’re unfamiliar, means that I experience the sensation that the phone in my pocket is buzzing, even when the phone is not in said pocket.
I’ve worn mechanical watches for a long time, but that’s not solely due to the aforementioned reluctance to adopt additional digital technology. I like mechanical watches. As someone who grew up in a blue-collar family who preached the value of utility over aesthetic, it feels weird to even write that, and I certainly never thought I’d become a full-fledged watch guy. But lo, as someone with an appreciation for puzzles that span engineering, innovation, and design, I ended up becoming a watch guy through a series of iterative and independently forgivable steps.
First, I read something about automatic watches by chance many years ago, fell deep into the proverbial rabbit hole, and soon found myself involved in online Seiko modification communities, building NH35 and NH36-driven watches from parts at night after my kids went to bed. Fast forward a few years, and — as though going through an out-of-body experience — I could be found subjecting my patient wife to a tour of the tiny world inside my watch’s display caseback, extolling the nuances of its co-axial escapement, all the while aware that she was nothing more than a polite captive, contorting her face to hide disinterest through sheer love-fuelled willpower. What a pro. A few weeks later, when my eight-year-old had clearly lost interest in my explanation of the UTC hand on an altogether different watch, I was forced to engage in some self-reflection, which resulted in my admitting that it had been a very watch guy thing to do to replace the calming landscape on my computer’s desktop wallpaper with a glamour shot of an F.P. Journe Octa Calendrier.
In admitting that I was a watch guy and understanding how I had become one, I should have felt some sense of catharsis and been able to move along with my life; however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a deeper reason for my affinity. Something fundamentally important that I couldn’t quite place my finger on.
The missing puzzle piece came to me in a recent work meeting. I found myself irritated by someone’s misstep and the realisation of the additional work it would cause. As I began to strategise my next steps, I found a calm wash over me, and I became conscious of the fact that I had been staring at my watch’s second hand, grounded in the moment. My watch was something simple and reliable, awaiting my attention rather than asking for it. Something with a heartbeat, albeit an inorganic one. It had been an unlikely facilitator of the mindful state that’s been evading me all these years, despite countless moments focused on the breeze or my breath or my ass on the chair or my feet on the ground.
I’ve participated in and contributed to an increasingly digital world, and I look forward to continuing to do so for the rest of my life. I don’t apologise for that. But as I do so, mechanical watches represent a critical connection to the present moment. Regardless of what that connection may be for you, I wish you luck in finding it.