Should your watch be a digital or traditional analog model? Remember, your answer could determine your income, social status and/or love life.
Here's a simple, introductory test:
In "Alice In Wonderland," the White Rabbit runs around checking his pocket watch and saying, "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date, no time to say hello, goodbye, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!"
If this book had been written in 1987, would the White Rabbit have a digital or analog watch?
If you answered 'Uh, digital," you have enough of what trained popular culture professionals call "time sense," and may continue to read the second part of this essay to see what belongs on your wrist.
Even if you said, "Uh, analog," go ahead and read on. No one can stop you.
Digital watches are for people who like things clear and precise. Aerospace engineers, computer technicians, tax accountants, people who like things to add up, who talk about the bottom line and getting to the point. And they're for athletes who can tell you their body fat percentage to the tenth of an ounce and are currently waiting for the pedometer they mail-ordered to arrive.
Analog watches are for people who like to round things off. People who don't itemize their deductions. Ask a person with an analog watch what time it is, and he'll glance at his wrist and say something like "quarter 'til," or "almost 10." The digital watch wearer will respond, "9:48 and 21 seconds, 22, 23 ... " Then he'll ask you if you want to know the date or the day of the week.
Analog time is anthropomorphic. Human, tangible. Analog time uses "hands," which sweep a regular cycle around the face of the timepiece. You can tell the time on an analog clock from the position of the hands alone, without needing numbers.
Digital time is number only, pure abstraction. The cycle it runs through is not geometric -- the sweep of hands around a face -- but numerical: 0-60 and back again, 12:00 back to 12:00.
Think of it this way: On the original Mickey Mouse watch, Mickey points out what time it is. On the new digital Mickey Mouse watch, Mickey is just a decoration, a leased character standing next to the numbers.
Analog watches are mechanical contrivances, full of toothy fears and cogs tick-tick-ticking. (For this discussion, we're not going to consider those weird hybrid quartz watches with analog faces; they're not fooling anyone.) Digital watches are electronic devices that break an electrical charge into precise bits and pieces.
Analog watches are powered by a mainspring -- when the spring is wound tight, it runs a little fast; and when it winds down, it runs a little slow. Analog watch warriors know a deep truth -- time is relative, not constant.
Analog watch wearers are always bumping into each other and saying, "What time you got?" and readjusting their watches.
Digital watch wearers never do this. Their watches don't gain or lose time, and they're not about to take your word for what time you think it is. They set their watch the day they buy it, and that's it. No gears and gizmos, just a little electronic chip humming along with its own subatomic arrogance.
The more archaic something is, the more status it has. This is why really rich people have huge old estates with grand pianos and horses instead of programmable CD-players and dirt bikes. The ultimate status timepiece is, of course, a sundial, preferably on the south lawn.
The analog watch has more clout at the country club -- it's thin and sleek as a society doyenne, with a tempered-glass crystal that gets scratched and broken, and a mechanism that needs resetting and cleaning. The band is made from the skin of a formerly living creature, preferably something from the family of Reptilia.
It can cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. An analog watch carries the aura of having been "crafted" by Swiss artisans, who sign their names on each creation. It's meant to be kept and passed along to your children. Not just a timepiece, it's an heirloom.
The classic digital watch crystal is fat and bulky, studded with chromium knobs and made of high-impact plastic that was originally designed for the cockpits of military jets. The case and band are heavy plastic, inert and indestructible. Digital watches keep precise time and never need repairing. They are so cheap that they now adorn ball-point pens given away by auto dealers and serve as prizes in children's cereal. So cheap that people can afford to have a different style for every outfit. They give the impression of having been stamped out of some large machine in a sweatshop.
When the lithium battery fails after several years, you throw the watch away. Not just a timepiece, it's a techno-fashion accessory.
The decision is yours.
Robert Ferrigno is a staff writer for The Orange County Register, from which this article was adapted.