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Why the Apple Watch Really Comes in Gold

09/20/2014 10:16 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:59 EDT

When Tim Cook unveiled the Apple Watch earlier this month, I was mostly interested in the fact that it came in gold. It seemed like something Steve Jobs would have loved. He was a man who believed computers could be made beautiful -- no, had to be beautiful -- before they were folded into our lives. And now this latest product -- "our most personal device yet" as Apple's website murmurs -- has ascended from the muck of mere mechanics to become a veritable piece of jewelry.

It'd be easy to say this is merely an expression of the much-touted fact that digital natives now care more about their gadgetry than the clothes on their back. But consider that Apple Pay will be here soon -- a new mobile payment system, which will allow users to simply wave their Apple Watches at points of sale to make a purchase. (At last, we can have what we want by merely waving at it.) What does it mean that a piece of supremely advanced technology has evolved into both an expression of, and enabler of, our desires?

A little history might help. Where did watches come from, anyway? First, the monastery's ponderous bell called the monks into order. Then ripples of coordination spread further and further: factories were brought into line with whistles; company clocks began dictating the hours of labor; and then, inevitably, individual citizens began toting pocket-watches that could become personal consultations for personal "time management"; more recently, we strapped those time machines to our wrists, so that the management of one's hours could remain in the periphery of our consciousness. We become ordered and -- what's more -- we become synchronized.

The smaller and more personal our timepieces became, the more we grew connected to the ordering they offered. We even made them into shiny talismans: we made $100,000 Rolexes. And the ordering they brought to our lives was comforting. A jewel, a totem, that divided your day for you, could tell you where to be and when.

But sometime around the fall of 2012 watches had become true anachronisms. There was a year or two where spotting a watch tan-line on someone's wrist was like seeing them pull out a pipe. (Where are you from?) We'd switched gears back to pocket-watch mode: constantly pulling phones out of butt pockets to check the time (and then Twitter).

The return of the watch -- in the form of Apple Watch -- will bring us a far more entrenched "management" than those Rolexes ever did. If the history of clocks and watches is a history of the gradually tightening ordering of our lives, then the Apple Watch could be that history's ultimate consummation. A pinging angel, ever at your wrist, ever threatening distraction, ever blessing you with distraction. The "phantom phone buzz" epidemic will transfer to our wrists, as we compulsively glance down to be sure we're on task whenever its gem-like face swings into view. If, in early 2015, the Apple Watch's release is a success in line with its Apple predecessors, it will mean we never tuck away the portal for our constant connectivity. It will mean another (and giant) step down the long road that included church bells and factory whistles: a move toward ever-more-regimented lives, breathtaking and beautiful in their efficiency, harried and hysterical in their punctilious mania. And how we will love it.

The Apple Watch did not become precious when they cast it in gold, of course; rather, they cast it in gold because it was already precious.

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