Today I got a Bulova watch that I won off eBay in the mail.
[Note: I think the phrase “won off eBay” does a lot to cement eBay’s reputation as something positive and fun. You don’t say “I went to the mall and won a Tech Vest from Old Navy,” because that doesn’t make sense. But “winning” has universally fun, exciting connotations, so even if you overpay the seller or get something half-crappy, the “winning” part sort of makes up for it. Thoughts?]
Anyway, it’s a very cute 1940’s silver watch that has to be wound every day. My first watch when I was about six or seven was a gift from my grandparents. They taught me how to wind it and I did, every day. Now, of course, this is a completely obselete technology. I’m sure I have plenty of friends, not to mention students, who wouldn’t have a clue what “winding a watch” is and would think of it as something horrifically old-fashioned. But digital watches, and analog watches that don’t have to be wound, are relatively recent inventions. (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy makes several early 80’s referents to “digital watches as a pretty neat idea”.) Now we think it’s “neat” if our devices update themselves for daylight savings time automatically; I get frustrated that my battered CVS alarm clock isn’t as smart as my cellphone. Our expectations for technology change very, very quickly.
My mother was telling me that she has a co-worker who was shocked to find out that my mother grew up (in 1950’s postwar England) in a house with outdoor plumbing. We universalize our experiences, and not just our experiences but our current experiences, and then we have a hard time imagining the world that we used to live in. I expect that many of my 19 year old students would find it hard to believe that I, only 10 years older than them, grew up in a house without a microwave, VCR, call-waiting, or cable television, that I didn’t get a CD player until my senior year of high school, and that I spent several years post-college socializing before cellphones became popular. (I did, however, have access to a personal computer growing up, and I had email starting in 1988. My parents weren’t Luddites, just picky about the technologies they allowed into their home. I grew up with a single 12″ television in the house, for example.) Technologies become necessities very, very quickly.
I’m happy with my charming old watch, although I probably will forget to wind it. Just like in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.