Around the year 1200AD, the Benedictine monks developed an ingenious mechanism, the verge escapement, that would eventually lead to the first alarm clock and make the monks the first humans to devise a system of telling time not directly related to the cycles of nature.
In 1370, King Charles V of France decreed that all Parisian church bells must ring simultaneously with the royal palaces; this ended the conventional ringing of bells at canonical hours as decreed by the church.
Time and our ability to follow it now control many aspects of our lives. For Neil Postman, 'The instrument conceived for the service of God became a tool of capitalists in the service of mammon.' With 'clocking on' devices in the workspace, train timetables, and meetings around the globe, the need to know the time in modern society is an essential skill.
Our constant need to know the time has driven timekeeping instruments to become both more accurate and portable. From clocks on churches and in town squares to grandfather clocks in the home to pocket watches and wristwatches, our fascination has resulted in a constant progression.
Time keeping has become a personal act rather than a communal act. Initially, time was based on natural phenomena, so the act of reading it took place on a global level. Then, Church bells reduced this to a local community level. Finally, personal timekeeping devices bring time down to an individual level.
We now have the resources to accurately know the time, all of the time. Opportunities to read the time in modern society are abundant. In many cases, the act of looking at a personal timepiece only serves to ascertain the precise time.
The next stride in human timekeeping is to know the time automatically. Time has become such an integral part of modern society that it is advantageous and simply natural to have an inbuilt sense of time.
The Subliminal Watch is exactly this; we append the body technologically such that the wearer learns to know the time 'naturally.' The 'watch' applies trivial electric pulses to four quadrants on the wrist, relating to the hour and divisions of 15 minutes thereof. The shocks serve a similar purpose as the Church bells', to subliminally remind us of the hour. Wearing the watch is a learning experience, requiring a period of training to 'read' the watch and a further period to 'know' the time. The watch is connected to the Rugby atomic clock timeserver, suggesting a return to elements of a former era when the sun standardised or synchronised our reading of time on a global scale.
The Subliminal Watch is currently a conceptual proposition. On one level, it represents or hints at our unusual relationship with the abstract notion of time and our reliance on technology to read it. On a pragmatic level, a functional prototype is currently being built with the intention of user testing and design iteration. Our feeling is that the constant 15-minute notifications would provide a trained user with an accurate and innate knowledge of the time without ever having to look at a timepiece.
(project done in collaboration with Matt Karau)