In the smartphone age, checking the time can easily turn into wasting time. Who among us hasn’t innocently glanced at their phone, seen a notification, and wound up unintentionally tapping and scrolling through the best part of an hour?
In the UK we spend on average 50 days of every year on our smartphones. for many, it’s not just one screen at any one time. As I write this at my desktop, I’m regularly checking my phone, yet it has exactly the same apps and sites as my computer. Six million people in the UK take it a step further, adding a smartwatch to this matryoshka of digital distractions.
Constant connectivity has become our default setting. By always being reachable, work can invade our personal time, while friends, followers and fans can encroach on those increasingly rare moments of real solitude, unbalancing us in the process. Perhaps, like the French, we should enshrine the “right to disconnect” into law. Until that happens, we’ll need to take disconnecting into our own hands – or wrists.
“The underlying behaviours we hope to fix are ingrained in our culture,” writes Cal Newport in his 2019 bestseller Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. The book offers a philosophy through which we can learn how to have meaningful, mindful and intentional relationships with the tech we choose to use. Our overuse of connected technology, the book argues, is “backed by powerful psychological forces that empower our base instincts”. Newport goes on to suggest that thoughtful, intentional and minimal tech can help us feel more connected to life itself.
Although Newport advocates a more comprehensive form of cyber detox, digital minimalism isn’t an exact science. It’s about figuring out what you really need from tech, and adjusting your personal preferences to align.
Disabling notifications for social media apps, for example, could allow you to be more conscious about how and when you connect to tech. Another relatively simple gesture could be closing one of the increasingly numerous portals into cyberspace at our disposals – switching from a smartwatch to something more classic. After all, do you really need a watch that can show you tweets?
Embracing conscientious design, like the less-is-more ideology of Japanese minimalism, “addition through subtraction” as it’s known, is another possible way to get back on track. Drawing on thousands of years of tradition, the uncluttered aesthetic has its roots in Zen Buddhism, with notions of balance at its core that speak directly to the idea of curating the environment we live in to better serve our wellbeing. It’s no surprise then, that Japanese minimalism remains so prevalent, not only in Japan itself but throughout western culture.
It’s with this philosophy in mind that the Seiko Presage collection offers a restrained, yet beautiful, approach to timepieces. The blueprint for the collection is Japan’s first wristwatch, the Laurel, released by Seiko 1913. It was compelling precisely because it favoured undecorated design and usability. The fundamentals of this minimalist blueprint have remained to this day. Such is Seiko’s connection to its design heritage and to the country’s culture and craftsmanship that these are celebrated in the Arita Porcelain Dial wristwatch – the ceramic dial is made traditionally using centuries old skills while the red of the number XII mimics and pays homage to the original Laurel.
It’s clear that Seiko continues to embrace minimalist philosophies and expressions, including those of the Zen garden and wabi-sabi, to produce timepieces that stand for quality, simplicity and beauty. The Zen garden, with its evocative sparseness, is reflected in a number of watches in Seiko’s Presage collection. As expressions of self-restraint that settle the mind, Zen garden-inspired watches are fitting partners in the quest for a more conscious approach to technology.
Seiko’s watches are themselves feats of technology, each imbued with decades of engineering, design and craftsmanship expertise, but presented in a quietly sophisticated way. Riki Watanabe, one of Japan’s most celebrated designers, is among Seiko’s key influences; he believed in rejecting unnecessary bells and whistles to invest in the best quality for all that you need, and nothing more. The Seiko Presage Riki Watanabe collection is an elegant reflection of all Watanabe stood for. In an era of abundance, the wearing of a Seiko watch celebrates this pared-down design aesthetic. As Seiko says: “With subtraction, beauty is added.”
However you choose to tailor your tech use, whether by taking a digital detox or trading in your smartwatch, bear in mind the power of intention. Take your time into your own hands.