I have recently been introduced to “Swatch Internet time” a time keeping system thought up by Swatch (the wrist watch people) as part of a strange advertising campaign linked to the Nation.1 Project.
The Nation.1 project was another terrible idea that may or may not have been some kind of odd marketing company’s nefarious workings.
That then sends you down a rabbit hole relating to the “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” and all sorts of other 90’s-isms. It’s a fascinating and wonderful hole to go down, I assure you. In this post though we are focusing on Swatch internet time, and I should not get distracted.
Swatch internet time or “Beat time” as is more commonly known now that swatch have stopped giving any shits is a system by which you address a day as a series of “beats” starting at 000 and counting up to 1000 (well, going to 999 then rolling around to 000 again, really)
Here are the specifics for those who can count,
1 day 1000 beats 1 hour 41.6 beats 1 min 0.694 beats 1 sec 0.011574 beats
It has no time zones. No daylight savings, its easy to understand by anyone and its basically an excellent idea. Also, literally no one uses it. It was a nonstarter. An idea that was so fundamentally 90s that even in the 90s it was thought of as 90s as fuck. It’s up there with Beanz and Windows ME as terrible ideas.
I hadn’t heard about Beat time before last month. My good friend Drewberry Shortcake (Uoou) was talking about it. I read up, with the intent of giving him a friendly argument about why it was a stupid idea. The thing is. It isn’t a stupid idea. It’s a bloody brilliant idea. It is literally the perfect way of measuring time in a global society. If anything the only thing that I object to is that it was thought up by a corporation. It was massively ahead of its time and we should adopt it as a standard when arranging meetings over the internet. Literally what it was designed for.
This sent me down quite winding path. I added Beats to my time notification script. I started using Beats as the time format for my notebook at work (to help me learn to think in this time format) and I even got a new watch-face for my smart-watch. It partly fascination and partly entertainment but I’m all in on Swatch internet time.
As a side effect of this stuff I have been thinking about time way more than I ever have before. Time became something of an interest to me. I know that sounds strange but I just never considered it this deeply before.
I had already started using the wonderful Aika time boxing tool that was created by productivity obsessive, YouTuber and good friend Mr ‘Leafshade’ so I think my brain was already considering time in some way.
=> Aika HQ Link
When working in beat time, the natural inclination is to round up and down to the nearest 0 or 5. For instance 08:00 is @375 this is fine. Knowing I start work at @375 seems easy. But I finish work at 16:00, this is @708 in beat time. Would my employer get massively less value out of me if I left work at @705 ? or even @700?
Would I be far better or worse-off starting work @400 or @350? As long as I have an agreed rate of pay per 100 Beats, or even per Beat. It is only when you start looking at another way of measuring time that you realise the arbitrary nature of the current system.
In Aika (the previously mentioned time-boxing tool that keeps me organised) the Minimum resolution I can record is half an hour. The logic being that less than half an hour encourages mico-management, also if a task takes less than half an hour and it’s not worth rounding up then why track it at all?
This is where Im starting to think that the resolution in which we track time is flawed. We know seconds exist but no one says “be at work at 08:00 and fifteen seconds”. That would be unreasonable. We have agreed that minutes are the correct resolution but even then we arrange meetings and appointments on, or half past the hour. So why do we even bother tracking things in our day to day life with any more granularity than that? If a bus journey takes 22 minutes we would say “about half hour” and if it was less we would say “quarter of an hour” but the lower the resolution the more vague are comfortable being. 7 minutes, 8 minutes, 11, minutes. Its all “about ten minutes” to our wonderfully squishy brains.
I was recently waiting for my daughter who had a medical appointment. She was exactly 14 minutes. She was very apologetic for making me wait. But if she had have been 10 minutes I doubt it would have occurred to her to say anything at all. Being honest, how did those 4 minutes affect my life? Or even my afternoon? Well, not at all. Not even a little bit. Once we pull the resolution back to “afternoon” we don’t even consider 4 minutes a blip. But at the time my Daughter thought of it as an imposition. Strange given that on the same day I wasted more than 4 minutes doing all sorts of things. I actually read the back of a soup tin because I wanted to know what it was made of, the print was very small. Took me ages to decipher it. Also I drank a cup of tea and browsed my email deleting spam, that took about fifteen minutes. None of that time felt wasted but it all was. All of it. Every second.
Because of all this, in my own life, in my own mind I measure things in half hour blocks now, or actually 20 beats or so. Because anything less isn’t time I could have actually used productively so it’s irrelevant to me. This has resulted for me in a much more relaxed attitude towards things. A queue that lasts too long or a Taxi that’s late doesn’t bother me anymore. Likewise, if a task takes me 25 or 30 beats instead of 20, I don’t care. I just think of the resolution I’m looking at smile to myself.
This new more relaxed, less rushed but more productive attitude towards time has only been possible for me because I have changed the lens through which I look at it. Time is one of those things what we all know is a shared illusion, a lie we all agree upon to make life easier. Once you see there are other ways of looking at things, other systems that can replace it you suddenly realise just how strange the whole thing is. Beat time has adjusted by Lens. Allowed me to relax my grip and genuinely improved my relationship to times passage.
It’s funny that a failed promotional campaign from the 1990s has had such a long reach for me. I also wonder if I’m literally the only person who is actively engaged in Swatch’s little time keeping model or if There’s a whole underground of Beaters.