Rob Walker shows admirable restraint and does not state the obvious in his NYT Magazine column about watches that don’t tell time.
In other words, it’s not that a watch with one hand, or no hands, has no value. It’s that the value it has is unrelated to the telling of time.
This, in fact, is what makes a useless-seeming watch potentially more valuable — in identity terms — than, say, regular jewelry. If the Timeless Bracelet didn’t have an empty space where the face should be, it would just be a bracelet. “It has more value because it’s missing its functional component,” Berger suggests; a thing that’s more of a comment on watchness than a watch “provides more information” about the person wearing it.
Exactly, it screams loud and clear that you are an idiot. And sensible people would be wise not to get into a conversation with you or give you any of the attention you so desperately crave but clearly don’t deserve.
Walker, who can apparently read coolhunting blogs without judging (or vomiting), instead highlights the appeal of objects that are “counterfunctional,” that make it harder to do what they are putatively supposed to assist a person with. Ordinary people don’t want them, which makes them that much more attractive for people who need to be nonconformists. Essentially, these are consumer goods equivalents of the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Metal Machine Music.
I can still remember making my own subtle calculations about how to come across as mysteriously different and ineffably superior to the people I might encounter. I never wore sunglasses indoors or anything, but I tried to figure out ways to impress people without having to do all the unpleasant work of talking to them and being interested in what they might say. It still has only barely sunk in that perpetrating a scheme of “nonconformity” is a surefire way not of impressing people but alienating them. It creates a forcefield that will prevent people from bothering with you. And those who aren’t warded off can’t have anything but a sort of false relation with you, since you are so studiously avoiding risking anything that you’re sincere about. In this way, the pursuit of cool is ultimately isolating, which tends to further the conditions that foster it—being alone, deprived of the skills to be sociable but susceptible and exposed continually to marketing promises of winning identities that one can imagine richly in fantasy without requiring the participation of others.
// Notes from the Road
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