The five-handed man

I abandoned my wrist watch when I first acquired a cell phone so many eons ago. A watch seemed a superfluous piece of jewelry when I had a networked atomic clock in my pocket. But recently the changing technological landscape of my pants has caused me to reconsider, dust off an old habit, and strap an analog timepiece to the intersection of my hand and forearm.

When this unusual gizmo first appeared on my person I received a few questions: “What smartwatch did you get?” “Is that a fitness tracker?” It’s as dumb as they come, I informed my interlocutors, and the only health data it tracks is the steady passage of time. Unlike my Internet-enabled cellular smart pocket watch, it never redirects my attention from a simple question–-Is it lunchtime? Is it happy hour somewhere?–into a never-ending drip of curiosities, one leading inevitably to the next, and more than a sad hour lost.

There was a time some years ago–at least I think there was–when the majority of people had smartphones but these glass rectangles had not yet reshaped us. Boredom was still a word people understood. You could have a conversation without interruption. But it’s hard to picture the scene, to place the time. Soon we learned to reach for our phones in response to real boredom, and in short order the pause between words in a sentence felt like boredom, and in the boredom the urge to check up on the lastest what-have-you became irresistible.

It might not be so bad if the smartphone was just a single-purpose entertainment appliance, picked up disinterestedly like Golf magazine in a dentist’s office, instead of an essential communications tool, notepad, personal assistant, radio, calendar, step tracker, stopwatch and level, or if the sum of human knowledge known as the Internet wasn’t also the greatest rabbit hole ever created. But combine the world’s most versatile tool with the world’s greatest timesuck, and you have reduced to zero the barrier between the good intention of finally straightening out that shelf in the guest bedroom and lost in the distraction dimension.

Should I smash my smartphone to bits, flee to the forest, build a house from timber I fell myself, raise goats and chickens, and otherwise delight in a pre-industrial paradise? I guess I’ll admit that’s probably an overreaction to the arrival of email messaging in my denim. Short of that? It won’t solve all my problems, but I’m slapping three more hands onto my arm, and thus making the twenty-five times a day I check the clock invulnerable to the draw of the distractosphere. Now to solve my leveling issues.

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