Thinking Fast And Slow

involves: watches, time, predictability, punctuality  

I don't get the point of habitually setting your watch five or ten minutes fast, as some busy people claim to do. If you know that your watch is five minutes fast, you will surely compensate for that (or, worse, have a little argument with yourself about compensating) whenever you need to know the exact time (much more on this at Quora).

With smart watches, on the other hand, I do see a possible point in having a watch that shows the wrong time: I have in mind an app that would make an Apple Watch run fast by a margin that varied randomly within boundaries specified by the user; between zero and ten minutes, say.

The wearer of such a watch would, I think, be logically obliged to behave as though the watch was accurate, even while knowing it to be inaccurate, because the degree of inaccuracy would not be known, and so the margin of minutes which might or might not exist between the real time and the nominal time could not be exploited.

But meh, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if the stated reason for setting a watch fast — to avoid being late for things — can ever be the true reason, because (i) it's a bad method and (ii) there are so many better methods.

I can more easily imagine the habit as one inherited from the times (if there were such times) when hand-wound mechanical watches ran down during the day, so that setting one's watch slightly fast at the start of the day, on the assumption that it would slow down in the course of the day, would be a rational form of averaging (the spandrel theory).

Or, I can imagine the wearing of a wrongly-set watch as a sort of unspoken appeal for understanding, a discreet public signal that the wearer knows that they cannot manage their time, knows that they are habitually late, and is making this weakness generally known, even at the risk of appearing irrational, in the hope of giving less offence to those kept waiting (the mad hatter theory).

Which leaves me with four open questions, the third one of which has legs:

— What are the real reasons that people set their watches slightly fast?
— Would all those real reasons also be better satisfied by a watch that ran unpredictably fast?
— Do some people (power play?) set their watches a few minutes slow?
— Has somebody already made this watch app, in fact?

Join 60,000+ curious readers who grow with us each week

No spam. No nonsense. Unsubscribe anytime.

Great! Check your inbox and click the link to confirm your subscription
Please enter a valid email address!
You've successfully subscribed to The Browser
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in
Could not sign in! Login link expired. Click here to retry
Cookies must be enabled in your browser to sign in