In my past life I was a community college instructor. My students ranged in age from age 20 and beyond but most were around the early 20s.

For years I had an analogue clock just above my office door. I often met with students but when I was pressed for time (not meaning to be rude) I would casually glance at the clock over the office door rather than look at my wristwatch. One day I asked a student what time we should meet again. They said, “well, what time is it now?” I said, the clock is right there, pointing to my office clock. They looked at it quizzically and said, “I can’t tell the time from that”, “I never learned”. What I heard hit me like a ton of bricks and this was a very bright student.

Baby Ben alarm clock with second hand
The big hand is on the left
The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors is in how they view the world

We talked.

  • Me: Where is the small hand pointing?
  • Them: What do you mean, small hand?
  • Me: I pointed out the difference between the long and the short hand, the long indicating the minutes and the short, the hours.
  • Them: Between 3 and 4.
  • Me: So that means it is 3 something. Where is the long hand pointing?
  • Them: On the 6.
  • Me: What’s 5 times 6?
  • Them: 30.
  • Me: So it’s 3:30. Simple.
  • Them: Oh!

Are smart phones destroying our present generation? Is the digital age having a deleterious effect on our young people? Many scholarly articles and vigorous debate attempt to explore how the present generation thinks and as you would expect there are many theories.

It’s no wonder that analogue mechanical clocks are hitting their lowest price levels in years

As a community college instructor I should have been aware of generational differences and the impact that smart phones and the digital world have had on our present generation. I was making assumptions that how we learned way back when was very much like how young people learn today. Boy, was I wrong! The biggest difference between the Millennials and their immediate predecessors and even my generation is in how they view the world; young people today differ from previous generations not just in their views but in how they perceive the world around them as sound-bytes, fleeting images and instant messages. The experiences they have every day are radically different from my generation.

Winding arbor above the six
The little hand is between the twelve and the one

Time for them takes on a different dimension. Time is at the same time important yet unimportant. Time for young people is not measured in imprecise phrases like “about a quarter to”. It has a certain curious precision that is at odds with my generation (1950s and 1960s). What time is it? To them the time is precisely “seven thirteen”, not “half past” or ” a quarter past”. And don’t get me going on fractions!

In the following months all the clocks on the college campus were replaced with digital versions. One day I had a conversation with the facilities manager and he said, “we took them all down because the students can’t read them”. It brought me back to my conversation with the student and I completely understood.

I collect antique analogue clocks and it makes me sad there there is a generation, and perhaps future generations going forward who will not appreciate the beauty and utility of the that “old fashioned” analogue clock. Will these clocks be lost to a generation who feel that they are completely irrelevant? I hope not!

It’s no wonder that analogue mechanical clocks are hitting their lowest price levels in years. Case in point. I bought an circa 1835 Daniel Pratt Jr. reverse column and splat 30 hour clock at an auction recently and paid just 30CDN (24USD).

Daniel Pratt reverse ogee and splat clock
Daniel Pratt Jr. reverse ogee and splat 30-hour clock, bought at recent auction

To this generation analogue clocks (and antique clocks for that matter) are meaningless, unnecessary and pointless.

But to us old folks they continue to have a certain charm that cannot be explained, well, to young people, anyway!