Kids cannot tell the time on an analogue clock

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!

6 thoughts on “Kids cannot tell the time on an analogue clock

  1. As happens with analog clocks, it happens with paper books, classical children’s games, the joy and excitement of the winter holidays… Oh, I’m so happy I had the opportunity to live all these in my childhood, because I always have something to tell about them!


  2. I think there’s room for old clocks in a fast paced world. Millenials seem to respond to the story behind the clock more than the clock itself. My nieces and nephews have dubbed me “Weird Clock Guy”, but they really seem to like the history stories.

    Much like you do with your blog, tell the history of the makers and the distributors, otherwise it’s just an old clock. I’ve got them hooked and I think that’s the key for organizations like the NAWCC for entry into the field.


    1. Don,

      My son and daughters (late twenties, early 30s) love my collection and I have given them some of my clocks but they humour us when we visit. “Oh, I see the clock is running well”. I know darn well that they wound it just before our we arrived.

      I love the history of clocks and I especially love the unique story behind some of them. Some stores are very sad. I bought a French slate clock from an elderly gentleman who was terminally ill. He was selling off his collection to provide for his wife after his death. I did not argue over the price.



  3. Thanks for sharing. Would you be able to recall for instance, your old school clock? I recollect my own, an extensive clock with a blurred white face, roman numerals, a wood outline and at whatever point I close my eyes I can envision around me, the school work areas, the visit of my school companions, the daylight spilling through the window, entertaining exactly how that dependably happens at whatever point the recollections are great.Best Vintage wall clock


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