Tuesday, January 14, 2020

longevity vs reincarnation for our companion gadgets

Shaun McGill of the brilliant Lost in Mobile also runs Snowflakes and Shields concerning his love of wristwatches. A while back he wrote a touching story about his father's watch and I was struck by this scene:
[My father] treasured [his Bulova Accutron Snorkel 666 feet watch] a lot and I remember watching him staring at it for much longer than he needed to when he was checking the time.
More recently Shaun wrote
When I check the time on the Omega I spend a second longer than I need to because it is such a joy to look at and to wear
That was on a piece about how he was giving up the Apple Watch even though he thinks it's a brilliant device and its tracking features aided him as he lost 100 lbs.

The funny thing is, I get the that same "linger a while, thou art so fair" effect with the iPhone - even though it is not quite the same class of engineering- still black glass and silicon is a little sterile relative to moving metal - but I get this silly little frisson of delight about seeing the calendar app and todo add a structure to my life, and then I take a moment to enjoy the heft of it (especially with my large iPhone 11 Pro Max in its substantive silicone case) by flipping it over and over a few times using one hand.

In that article Shaun also writes
Can you name one tool with a practical use that could be 50 years old and yet still perform its function perfectly every day without any intervention at all? A tool with history, provenance and which only goes up in value (both emotionally and financially) the longer you wear it? A tool that becomes so familiar that it would feel like a loss to not have it attached to you. Only a watch ticks those boxes.
I tried to think of some counter-examples: a classic ink pen has the use and longevity but not quite always with you, eyeglasses can be even more fundamental to your identity (as seen by others) but don't have the longevity, a ring or necklace might have the longevity but not the engineered functionality. So watches may be it!

But swinging back to my "pocketwatch", the iPhone - and before that, the PalmPilot which gave me similar happy gadget twinges despite being less of a physically satisfying artifact (at that point the design pleasure was how so much useful structure to my life was added by what was basically a GameBoy screen and child's toy stylus) One of the reasons I had such loyalty to both lines was longevity - not of individual devices, but with synching based continuity - gadget reincarnation, so to speak... Like, my current device holds the reincarnation of all my important information - music files that dates back to me ripping old CDs for my iPod in 2004, and (manually transferred, sadly) datebook entries from the PalmPilot in the 90s. That's pretty cool!

So I'd recommend any of Shaun's sites, of course, and if you like talking about this kind of stuff - from gadget news to more thoughtful ideas about technology, I'd invite you to seek out the companion WhatsApp group Shaun runs for it...

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