There’s No Such Thing as a Free Watch

I have a love/hate relationship with computers and the internet. On the one hand I’m thankful for the platform of this blog and podcast as well as instant access to a whole world of useful how-to information and videos. But, the other day while doing an image search for William Blake’s Urizen, I landed on a hateful anti-Semitic website. Grossed out, I retreated to the computer-free early twentieth century technology of my garage workshop where the Butlerian Jihad backstory of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune remains in effect.

Jihad, Butlerian: (see also Great Revolt) — the crusade against computers, thinking machines, and conscious robots begun in 201 B.G. and concluded in 108 B.G. Its chief commandment remains in the O.C. Bible as “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”

Alas, I often cheat with my liberal use of Sketchup.

Along the lines of “we need to rethink this internet thing,” artist Jenny Odell has written a fascinating piece about a phenomenon wherein poorly made objects incarnate via Instagram and other social media platforms. Her essay,  There’s No Such Thing as a Free Watch (pdf) traces the origin of watches pimped by social media “influencers.” These watches begin not as a practical way to tell time but, rather, as a physical manifestation of social media interactions.

Amidst the shifting winds of Alibaba sites, dropshipping networks, Shopify templates, Instagram accounts and someone somewhere concocting the details of “Our Story,” a watch was formed, like a sudden precipitate in an unstable cloud. And almost immediately after being produced, it is reviled, doomed to live out its stainless steel life, less a teller of time than an incarnation of petty deception. In that sense, it may be the best artifact of capitalism one could ask for.

You almost need to go back to Thomas Aquinas’ complex Aristotelian thoughtstylings about transubstantiation to wrap your head around the story Odell tells.

While we’re on the topic of transubstantiating things, the Church of England hopes to encourage folks to give up single use plastics for lent via a plastic-free lenten discipline (pdf). It’s a great list of suggestions to which we may need to add social media.

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  1. I guess whoever named the bogus watch company Folsom & Co was not familiar with the California state prison system, or assumed that their purchasers were not. Maybe they should listen to “Folsom Watch Blues” by Johnny Cash.

  2. the Lent item from the Anglican Church is totally awesome! I’m going to print that out and stick it to my fridge. I don’t observe Lent but the suggestions are so practical and most so easily overlooked today that I want them staring me in the face every day. Thank you!

  3. We have a mostly hate-hate relationship with the internet, but it has really become hard to manage without it because everyone, including news outlets, expects that everybody has access all the time. It is particularly annoying to me that nobody seems to include paper manuals with anything anymore; I gave up trying to learn the finer points of my camera because scrolling through the on-line instructions was so time consuming and annoying.

    For several reasons, including lingering questions about the safety of 24/7 exposure to wi-fi and the conversation-deadening effects of electronic doo-dads, we’ve put our wi-fi on a timer. It goes on for about an hour mid-morning to check emails and print out the day’s Cryptoquote, then it’s on again between 7 and 10 in the evening, because we like to watch a couple of PBS programs and the wi-fi has to be on to allow the TV to operate. Sure, we could go down to the basement and flip the switch to override the timer, but we’ve gotten used to our new schedule and don’t really miss the constant access anymore.

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