October, 1999
(GMT Monday, October 25, 1999 at 14:56:07)

Swatch "Internet Time" - Scam or Stupidity?

Swatch sells a watch that tells "Internet Time", and in my opinion they are only preying on the ignorance of the masses, to make a buck.

"Internet Time" is purely an invention of Swatch. No other Internet-related organization has had anything to do with the creation of "Internet Time". Their product fills no technological or social void. It is worse than useless.

Their pitch:

Swatch has created a new universal time. The 24 hours of a day are divided into 1000 beats: 1 beat = 1 minute 26.4 seconds. Internet time is displayed by @ and three digits, ranging from @000 to @999. The Internet day starts at midnight (wintertime) in Biel, Switzerland, the home of Swatch. No more time zones, no more borders, no geographical differences. One world - one time.
The problem: there already is a "universal time". It's even called Universal Time, and abbreviated UT (or UTC, where the C is for coordinated). It's been around for years and is also known as Greenwich Mean Time, and also Zulu Time. Banks use it. Other international businesses use it. And, more importantly, computers use it. Every computer in the world can tell you what the time is, in real Universal Time. Without buying a Swatch. Without spending any extra money at all. It's based on seconds, minutes, and hours, so you don't have to learn a newer (and dumber) time unit.

Their own sales pitch isn't even self-consistent. The third sentence says there are no more borders, yet the second sentence tells you that "Internet Time" is based on the time in Biel, Switzerland.

What's the Harm?

It's harmful at many levels.

For starters, there's harm in the cheated feeling people who buy the watch will get when they realize that only a handful of other people in the world know or care what they are talking about when they try to use "Internet Time".

There's harm in further confusing those who fear that the Internet is too confusing, too complicated, too scary for them.

There's also harm in confusing us with a new time unit, that isn't a second long. Why 1000 beats in a day? 1000 may be a nice round number, but it isn't a round number to a computer. And it isn't as divisible as traditional time - for instance, if you wanted to meet three times a day at even intervals, you find that 1000 is not evenly divisible by three.

Further, conventional time is based on a basic understanding of the natural world around us. Is there real value in teaching kids (who are, after all, the primary market) that they don't need to learn about the rotation of the earth, and time zones?

In sum, it's harmful because it is an insult to our intelligence.

Is it really a scam?

I can't say for sure this is a scam, because saying it is a scam means that they, as an organization, know it is a scam. I've been around enough to know that upper management and marketing departments tend to be ignorant of technology, and they have too much power. So I could easily imagine that some Swatch execudroid pinhead really believes that he or she is doing the world some great service.

But a company that makes timekeepers ought to have a fundamental understanding of timekeeping. They should have known that it's a stupid idea. So if you are willing to give Swatch the vast benefit of the doubt, you're forced to conclude that there must be some complete morons working there. If you can't imagine that a timekeeping company could really be that stupid, then all that's left is a scam.

If you want to learn about timekeeping, here is a good starting point:
HOROLOGY - The Index
(horology is the science of timekeeping, clocks and watches).

There's actually someone out there who's trying to solve this problem in a much more intelligent way. David L. Moore has developed a system called Hora Terrae, and it is based on a clock which corrsponds to the position of the Earth relative to the Sun. It's downfall will probably be that it would reqire people to think a little, and understand the most basic notions of the Earth's orbit around the Sun. But it is worthy of examination, unlike the Swatch crap.

(I have no direct relationship with him or his endeavor, no financial stake in it or anything, blah blah blah. This is not an endorsement, I just think it's interesting.)

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