A decimal watch?

[4 minute read or if you prefer, just under 3 decimal minutes]

So recently I have been thinking again about time and how we use watches. I have written about this on here a couple of times and also have a fediverse account that is watch and time related.

What time is it?

Binary wrist watch


Decimal time

My current fascination is decimal time, where the day is spilt up into "hours", "minutes" and "seconds" that are all divisible by 10. The best known example of this is probably "French Revolutionary Time", which was used (in France) for a short period in the early 1790s. Here the day is broken down into 10 decimal hours, each of which is 100 decimal minutes and these in turn, 100 decimal seconds. Perhaps the next best known "variation" would be Swatch's Internet Time, introduced in 1998, where the day is simply divided into 1000 decimal minutes, which they called ".beats". The only real difference here is that Swatch really focusses only on these .beats/minutes but these actually represent exactly the same length of time as the French decimal minutes. So the systems aren't really that different and that kind of makes sense, when you think about it.

Decimal time

Swatch Internet Time

The advantages of such a system are that people generally find base-ten easier to work with (albeit perhaps due to familiarity), plus using the same base all the way down, makes for easier calculations and conversions. Nonetheless, it never really caught on because of the difficulty of changing people's habits and perhaps—I speculate here—also because there were already large numbers of expensive clocks that would need replacing.

Precision is not everything

A few years back I bought a single-handed, 24 hour watch. I don't use it all the time but I quite enjoy it when I do—indeed, I am wearing it as I write this. I love the simplicity of its interface and enjoy observing the slow passing of the day at a glance. This is especially easy on a watch like this, as one day is just one revolution of the face. The bottom of the face represents the night, left the morning, top midday and right the evening. Many have noticed the sundial like aspect of this.

Another common observation of others is the lack of precision when reading the time. It is hard to make out the time to less than about 5 minutes but in reality, that is not nearly so problematic as one might expect. Most meetings and events tend to fall on the hour, half hours and (very occasionally) on quarter hours. All of these are clearly marked. In any case, if I am unsure, I tend to turn up early (just in case), and that is rarely a bad thing.

By wearing this for a while, I realised that my primary use case for a watch (any watch) is a just to do a quick check to see how close I am to some regular, known point in time. Some obvious examples throughout my typical day being "waking up", "dropping off the kids to school", "getting into the office", "lunch time", "the end of work", "the kids bed time" and "my own bed time". I often find I look at my watch, and don't really take in the actual time. Indeed if you asked me the time immediately afterwards, I probably could not tell you. I just see how "visually close" I am and this tells me if I need to hurry up or not (or if I am actually late already).

Yes I do occasionally need precision but with many other precise sources of time close to hand (on my phone, my computer, clocks in the office and at home …) I can always get the information, on the rare times I need it.

If I took this further, would it be a good idea?

So recently it occurred to me that perhaps I could actually use a decimal watch in my daily life. Not because it is "better system", but more that I "could" do it and the downsides would (perhaps) be minimal. Of course initially those times I mentioned "waking up", … "lunch time", etc. would be meaningless on a decimal watch because they would be labelled differently. Instead of "lunch at 11:30", it would be "just before 4:80" but within a week I suspect I would just learn the new times without much effort (i.e. some event happens, you look at your watch, and make a mental note of the new time for the same occurrence in the future).

Now of course every day is not identical. If I have a quickly arranged meeting, I would not be able to use the watch for this (since I would have to negotiate and schedule with others using 'traditional time') but as stated previously there are other sources of time close to hand to use for such occasions. Also if I am doing something very unusual for a while like travelling abroad, I could just use a normal watch for that. I do actually own quite a few watches!

So yeah… this … could … work, right? 😆 Certainly it might not be a "good idea" but then it might still be a "workable idea" and… I do like odd stuff. There is a joy in doing things differently and you always learn something new along the way, that you could not have predicted beforehand.

In summary, yes I have already ordered a single-handed, decimal watch. I don't have it yet but even if it turns out to be totally unusable for real life (because my expectations are poorly thought out), I am sure it will be fun. I will try and do a follow up post after I have used it for a while and let you know how it panned out (even if the answer is "badly").

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