Friday, April 15, 2011

The Six Best Things I Didn't Know I Wanted Until I Saw Them On TV, #6.



I'm a little reluctant to actually finish a MiniBest, as I traditionally like to cut these things off before the end, but I take some solace in the fact that I'm no longer limiting this MiniBest to things I've actually seen on TV, and I blame that, actually on TV.

Or, rather, on TV's lack of creativity when it comes to ads -- because if ads were better, I wouldn't be so inclined to skip past them and continue watching whatever show it is I'm currently fixated on watching (The Big Bang Theory) but would watch the ads.

But ads are pretty lame, and TV continues to not make interesting or funny ads, and continues to also not take my innovative solutions for how to get people to actually watch ads, which include:

1. Creating ads that can only be viewed when you're fast-forwarding, so that when you hit FF to skip past an ad, the Inter-ad appears and plays in, say, three seconds. Decide to skip that Burger King ad because the King is kind of creepy, and end up with a McDonald's ad exhorting you to go buy a baked apple pie.*

*McDonald's has probably trademarked Baked Apple Pie, given that they've trademarked just about everything else, including the prefix "Mc," which McDonald's once successfully pointed out in court was it's to use exclusively. So I'm using this at my own risk.
2. Putting little moving ads from corporate sponsors down in the corner of the TV screen, where they currently put tiny ads for their own shows, and allowing viewers to click on those ads to have them play; they could roll through little text/promotional spots that might catch your eye as you watch the show.

Both of those are genius ideas that someday will be adopted but will still not lead to more interesting commercials, so I'll probably still tune them out and not be introduced to exciting new products that I've seen on TV, and will have to continue using the better part of my "work" day to seek out new things to want to buy.

Which is why the Internet exists. That, and, of course, porn. But I never look at that.**

**Honestly, Sweetie, I don't. It was probably a virus.

Today, I looked up, because I was curious, clocks. I wanted to see what kind of innovations there'd been in clocks, because I think sometimes humanity has a tendency to leave well enough alone and not improve things because we think they're good already -- but if everyone thought that way, we'd still be driving around in buggies led by horses, albeit buggies led by horses that are guided by GPS and have MP3 players in them, because even if cars hadn't been invented I'm pretty sure Steve Jobs would have still come up with the iPod, since he did that purely out of spite, the way he does everything.

I went looking for clocks to see how clocks had developed because clocks have been around a long time and are simple enough devices that uneducated carpenters can build them and then get rooked out of the prize money by the elitists who dislike him, so I assumed that our society would have come up with something better or more original or ... something. I assumed our society would have come up with something that was something-er about clocks.

What I found was actually somewhat depressing: most innovations in clockery over the course the centuries have involved new and kind of creative ways to make sure we actually get up when the alarm goes off. Some of those are clever, like the Sfera Hanging Alarm Clock, which hangs on a cord above your bed, and raises a little each time you hit "snooze" so that eventually you have to sit, then stand, up.

Some of them are even more clever, like Clocky, an alarm clock that wanders away before you can turn it off:



But all of them are just clocks, albeit clocks that move. They don't change the way we look at or think about clocks at all.

Then I found a list of the "10 Coolest Clocks," which amounted to clocks that were shaped like things, or which ran on unusual sources of power like oranges or water.

These clocks, too, which I found by searching for "most inventive clocks," were just clocks in different shapes.

It's not just me that wanted to see something more than just a clock, who wanted to see a different way of looking at time. Stephen Hawking (who steals material from Dane Cook) unveiled a clock called the "Time Eater" back in September 2008. Created by a horologist, the clock is described like this:

the unique clock, which has no hands or numbers, was revealed at Corpus Christi College. Dubbed the strangest clock in the world, it features a giant grasshopper and has 60 slits cut into its face which light up to show the time. Its creator John Taylor said he "wanted to make timekeeping interesting".

But looks like this:





So it looks, more or less, like a regular old clock, with a grasshopper sitting on it. And before you get all excited about the hyperbolic description of the clock as demonstrating that "time is relative," consider that the "Time Eater" clock is only accurate once every five minutes.

It took five years to make and is less accurate that simply estimating the time.

Again, I'm not sure what I was looking for -- but none of those things were it. None of them really made me think about something in a different way, which all of the inventions on this list (silly as some were) did: say what you want about rolling ice cream around the backyard, but it does show you that making ice cream isn't that difficult, and PajamaJeans raise the important philosophical question "Why don't we make clothing more comfortable?"

The thing is, it seems like we should have newer, or weirder, or different, clocks. Our world isn't the same world that James Harrison's world was, but we're using the same clocks. He had to invent a clock that would let people know when ships were going to run aground. Nowadays, we can get information around the world in a millisecond and can use GPS satellites to tell us exactly where our horses and buggies are, so clocks don't necessarily serve the same purpose.

(I note, too, that clocks don't necessarily work. I have five clocks in my office, and as I write this, they read: 10:02, 9:59, 9:58, 9:58, and 9:52 a.m.)

(That, more than a solid gold grasshopper, proves that time is relative.)

So I was looking for clocks that demonstrated how they fit into this world, rather than the world of my grandparents or their grandparents, and so on. Clocks that demonstrated a newer understanding of time, or provided a way of looking at time differently.

Which we do, now, you know, even if you don't realize it. Moe, on The Simpsons, once commented that his deep fryer could "flash fry a buffalo in forty seconds," to which Homer responded "Forty seconds... but I wanted it now."

That's
part of how we look at time now -- forty seconds is an eternity, and if you don't think so, go watch a video that's forty seconds long. (I bet you, like me, didn't even watch the full videos above.) When I make microwave popcorn, it takes 3 minutes -- and I think that's pretty long, so long that I considered buying pre-popped popcorn. I almost never pop my own corn on the stove, even though I like that better, because it takes too long.

Other things seem like an eternity -- like driving to work, which takes 30 minutes but seems far longer when there's traffic, because if I'm in traffic I feel like I'm being impeded, and remember, studies have shown that elapsed time is largely perception based.)

So while our perceptions of time have passed -- we have 15-minute long TV shows now -- the way we measure time has stayed the same: We still have clocks with circular hands going around in a 12-hour measure.

Is that the best way to measure time? Are digital clocks the best we can do to show the passage of time and measure its impact on our life?

Imagine, if you will, a few simple changes to clocks. Say, a clock that shows not just hours and minutes, or hours, minutes, and seconds, but milliseconds.

Or a clock that only measures hours.

Which of those would you choose to use? The first would give you a sense of urgency, the second a sense of leisure.

Expand beyond that completely, to remove hands and numbers from clocks, and that doesn't measure time based on celestial motions at all... like a water clock:



Or a clock that doesn't measure time in hours and seconds, but in longer terms, like the 10,000 year clock:




That's a prototype from The Long Now Foundation, which wants to build a 10,000 year clock as a monument to long-term thinking.

A lot of innovation and invention comes from looking at something and saying That doesn't seem to be quite what I need, or I can think of a better way to do that.

Can it really be that we can't look at clocks and think of a way to improve them so that they're more useful to the way we live or want to live? That the only thing we can think of to do is to make clocks force us to get out of bed in the morning?

I've never yet found an area of human life that can't stand to be improved somehow, from dishwashing to space travel. I don't believe that clocks or timekeeping is that area, the one area where (ironically?) time stands still and we have to do things the same way we ever did.

It's not as though a new clock would have to be a quantum leap forward into something that we don't recognize as a clock; PajamaJeans, after all, aren't a new kind of clothing so much as they are simply an advance into a better society.

It just seems to me that there should be newer, better, more creative clocks out there: clocks that are particular to certain occupations, or clocks that are embeddable in our contact lenses or earrings (where you could press it and the sound would travel through your ear, telling you what time it is but being inaudible to the world) or clocks that ...

... I don't know. That do something different. I'm a little disappointed that we don't have that, and a little letdown that I can't think of something that would represent a clock breakthrough. I've come up with tons of other ideas, but I can't come up with something I think is truly new now, and that's depressing me.

On the other hand, I do kind of want to go buy a Clocky. That might cheer me up.




Previous entries on the list:

1. The Incredible Gyro Bowl.

2. Pajama jeans.


3. The Play & Freeze Ice Cream Ball.

4. Quirky.com

5. Joulies.

Click here for more MiniBests.

1 comment:

Rogue Mutt said...

The last new clock I bought was a little travel one that uses satellites to link with some atomic clock somewhere so that it's supposedly more accurate. Except right now the satellite thingy isn't working so the clock is an hour behind from daylight savings time.

Of course all clocks are relative. You can say it's 11:49am or 2:49pm. Try to prove the difference. It's like the months where we just assigned arbitrary values to these things. So maybe someone should come up with some new arbitrary values to tell time.