1420: Watches

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Old people used to write obnoxious thinkpieces about how people these days always wear watches and are slaves to the clock, but now they've switched to writing thinkpieces about how kids these days don't appreciate the benefits of an old-fashioned watch. My position is: The word 'thinkpiece' sounds like a word made up by someone who didn't know about the word 'brain'.
Title text: Old people used to write obnoxious thinkpieces about how people these days always wear watches and are slaves to the clock, but now they've switched to writing thinkpieces about how kids these days don't appreciate the benefits of an old-fashioned watch. My position is: The word 'thinkpiece' sounds like a word made up by someone who didn't know about the word 'brain'.


This comic coincides with the announcement of a new smart watch by Apple earlier in the week as of the comic's release date (9th Sept 2014), the Apple Watch, along with a large emphasis on smartwatches at IFA 2014 (Sept 5-10), particularly 'Android Wear'.

The timeline shows a period approximately from 2005 to 2015 where our wrists were liberated from the tethers of wearing a watch, likely attributed to the fact that many instead used a mobile smartphone to tell the time.

Whilst other smartwatches have been released in the past, Randall predicts that the typical widespread interest following Apple product releases (combined with many other new releases by other companies) will result in our wrists again being shackled in the grip of watches from 2015. The wording of the label suggests that Randall is pre-emptively mourning the imminent loss of freedom of his and others' wrists, though this may be humorous hyperbole/sarcasm, as his position has generally been of apathy, such as in 1215: Insight.

The title text refers to how "old people" tend to express derision towards change (generally most widely accepted by 'young people') as not being like it was "in the good old days", even if this means they contradict themselves. Initially, the wearing of watches was viewed negatively by the older generation, but now not wearing a watch is instead negative. The second part of the title text starts as if Randall is going to express an opinion on wearing a watch but then veers off to mock the word "thinkpiece," due to its (particularly recent) connotation for lacking factual content and expressing biased opinions. For more details on thinkpiece see this article. By equating thinkpiece with brain, Randall is making a reference to the fact that this compound word does not follow the convention of the compound word timepiece, which is a synonym for watch.


[A timeline shows the following years but extends further in both directions:]
1990 2000 2010 2020 2030
[A grey box extends from the left border to approximately 2005 and another grey box begins approximately at 2015 and continues to the right border. They are labeled:]
Regular watches
Smart watches
[An arrow points up to the empty period between 2005 and 2015. Below the arrow is written:]
Brief, glorious period in which our wrists were free

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Thinkpiece is a very Orwellian type of word, immediately reminded me of "doublethink" --Pudder (talk) 09:06, 12 September 2014 (UTC)

I thought he was mocking the word timepieces. 10:29, 12 September 2014 (UTC)
Good catch, I didn't think of that! --Pudder (talk) 10:58, 12 September 2014 (UTC)

So... this cartoon is a thinkpiece about how Randall doesn't like watches? Hasn't he drawn cartoons (on other topics) which pointedly ask "so what?" 09:24, 12 September 2014 (UTC)

I'm not sure that word applies here. The linked article states that "thinkpiece" is used to refer to articles about opinions as opposed to facts. The information provided in this comic is factual, showing social trends. The comic itself also doesn't state whether or not Randall likes watches. As for other comics, it has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Simply adding your opinion to a presentation of facts isn't really enough to fit the usual definitions of "thinkpiece". 07:38, 13 September 2014 (UTC)
You don't think the "glorious" gives it away? 03:03, 14 September 2014 (UTC)

I love this one because it's something that's been on my mind. I now have to wear a watch sometimes for work and I quickly found myself feeling kind of naked without it! It's got me thinking about trends, especially phrases and ideas that flit across our collective global consciousness. BTW I googled "thinkpiece" and there are some awesome sarcastic, rude How-to" articles online 09:58, 12 September 2014 (UTC)

I think the bars for regualar watches and smartwatches resemble straps with the actual watch missing in the free space between them. 10:37, 12 September 2014 (UTC)

Perhaps 'thinkpiece' is a mockery of 'smartwatch'. (On another note I wonder why Randall did not include the time prior to invention of wristwatches on this graph.) 21:19, 12 September 2014 (UTC)

If the scale is linear then it extends back to 1979, and it could be stretching it a little to call a chunky, battery-hogging, red LED calculator watch "regular" (especially the kits!) DivePeak (talk) 04:38, 15 September 2014 (UTC)

No, those LED watches weren't "regular" back in 1979. But wristwatches have been around for more (possibly far more) than a century, using micromechanical regulators and physical dial pointers to indicate the time... Very steampunk, eh? ;) (Also note that LCDs were out before 1979.) 07:47, 15 September 2014 (UTC)

If I'm interpreting the comic correctly, Randall is claiming that nobody wore a wristwatch between 2005 and the recent spread of smartwatches. Surely that cannot be true? I mean, even if we assume that the majority of people who would normally wear watches have instead been using their mobile phones to tell time since 2005 (a dubious assertion, as turning one's arm and glancing at one's wrist is a far more subtle and effortless action than removing one's phone from a pocket/holster/bag, pushing a button and then looking at the screen), this doesn't necessarily mean that these people stopped wearing watches altogether. Some (such as I) may well have continued to wear a watch out of personal preference and/or as a fashion accessory rather than out of necessity. Also, I'd argue that the act of glancing at one's watch is a lot more acceptable to perform in mid-conversation than that of pulling out one's phone. Or maybe that's just an old-fashioned Central European thing.-- 08:53, 15 September 2014 (UTC)

I think that he may be using hyperbole, indicating that generally far fewer people wore a watch than previously between 2005 and 2014, not necessarily 'no-one'. I generally wore a watch as well, but noticed that most other people didn't, perhaps due to the inconvenience of having/finding another appliance. People did always ask those who wore a watch the time for convenience, but generally would just take out their phones if no one with a watch was around. A smartwatch may make a difference as it may provide a significant benefit, rather than just telling the time, and so people will be more inclined to wear it. Also, as an Australian, I think that it is also generally frowned upon to take a phone out during most conversations, except perhaps with friends. 09:16, 15 September 2014 (UTC)

Does anyone else wish the Quintessential Phase of HHGTTG had been delayed until 2014 so they wouldn't have had to cut the joke about humans being so primitive we still think digital watches are a neat idea, and could have instead changed it to smart watches? 10:21, 25 September 2015 (UTC)