Mike Walsh: In Search Of Lost Time


After a long hiatus of not wearing a watch at all, I recently took possession of my dream piece – an IWC Perpetual Calendar. Intricate, complicated, and ironically – unrepentantly analogue. But the mystery deepened. As I opened the box containing the watch I discovered a small glass vial, sealed by wax and containing a tiny, perfectly machined part. ‘You, or should I say – your great great descendant will need this on January 1, 2200′, said the brand manager in response to my puzzled expression – ‘it is the replacement slide for when the calendar year moves into a new century’. That set me thinking. We always assume that digital is the logical evolution of analogue, but could it be a relationship more subtle?

First, a confession. I love analogue. I take pictures on an old film Leica, I write with a leaky fountain pen on a small Moleskine notebook and I aspire owning my favourite albums on vinyl and a real valve driven hi-fi. Part of the motivation for my retrograde lusts are aesthetic. I like the look of film grain, the feel of paper, and the warm sound of records. But there are also powerful emotions attached to the idea that things can still be crafted.

A real part of the appeal of ‘steam punk’, where the high tech is re-imagined as a mechanised baroque fantasy of cogs and flywheels – is that we regain the feeling that technology is not magic but the results of human engineering. Like the Eloi, as our hardware has advanced, we lost our knowledge of its workings. Modern electronics can no longer be fixed, merely discard and replaced. Worst of all – the lack of permanence in the things that surround us is mirrored in the constant stream of social media and status updates. In other words, momentum gets routinely mistaken for meaning.

I think that is why Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem is so seductive. Imagine a world strictly divided between a technological and commercial saecular society and a group known as the Avout, intellectuals who live monastically in cloistered communities. The Avout are forbidden to communicate with people outside the walls of their monastry except during certain periods in which giant gates open – like clockwork – every year/decade/century/millenium, depending their vows. It is like a societal coping mechanism to prevent the loss of knowledge through progress.

You can easily lose perspective in the perpetual present. Think about your world. User generated content is already on the way out. Few create, most consume. Blogging is a dying art. Eventually, we won’t even tweet. Our devices will simply automatically check us in, and signal silently to each other – until we ourselves resemble human sized packets in a distributed network.

I doubt that my little glass vial will survive into the hands of a great, great grandchild, but in a way that’s not really the point. Its just nice to be reminded that while the chaotic universe might not operate like Isacc Newton’s perfect celestial clock – through our devices and desires, we still have the capacity to create small moments of perpetuity.

Article from Mike Walsh’s Blog

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