A ninth-grader asked me how much time was left on the state biology exam. Thinking the answer obvious and the question unnecessary, I pointed to the start / end times I had written prominently on the board and then to the big clock on the wall. That’s when I learned that she had asked because she couldn’t read the analog clock.
I reacted predictably with hand-wringing, teeth-gnashing, breast-beating and lamentations about the sorry condition of today’s youth. A ninth grader who never learned to read an analog clock surely reflects the Decline of Civilization in the West.
Fortunately, the state biology test is long, so I had plenty of time, by any clock, to think this over. After considering all the sun dials, water clocks and other devices nobody uses or even knows how to use anymore, I realized that the problem isn’t the ninth grader. The analog clock is simply an anachronism.
Analog clocks are masterpieces of gears and mechanics. They are postcards from the Age of Reason and the Industrial Revolution. Even an ugly, institutional analog clock has way more charm than some sterile, digital job. We love analog clocks because like us, they have faces. They’re perfect for pathetic fallacy! But if we’re being honest, analog’s time has come. Sand flowing hypnotically down a narrow tube was cutting edge chronology once too, but the hourglass has joined the abacus in the attic. Can analog clocks be far behind?
Schools now have laptops instead of ink wells. Smartboards have replaced chalkboards. And yes, many classrooms display digital clocks. There’s a digital clock in this computer I’m typing on and in the smartphone you’re probably reading on. Imagine if we still used the printing press!
The only constant (besides the speed of light in a vacuum) is change. The inevitable winding down of analog clocks isn’t a sign of the apocalypse. It’s just a sign of the times.