The Apple Watch, Time, and Sabbath
“Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”
(Quoted in Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001:571)
These were the final words of a quote by the late Steve Jobs that were chosen by Walter Isaacson to conclude the biography, Steve Jobs. As the “allegorical figure for reading the ways in which technology and individual value systems intersect,” he was instrumental to Apple Inc.’s rise as a dominant global company and brand as cofounder, CEO, and chairman (quoted in Brett Robinson ‘Appletopia’, 2013:6). His reticence towards on-off switches on Apple devices, in part at least, was his life-long desire to create successful products characterised by such functionality and beauty that the user not only needed to keep it switched on, but wanted to keep it switched on.
The Apple Watch is the first entirely new product category that has been developed by the company since Jobs’s death in 2011.
The Apple Watch is the first entirely new product category that has been developed by the company since Jobs’s death in 2011. It was announced on 9th September 2014, is set to be released 24th April 2015, and is to be the next stage in Apple’s story. I suggest that the APPLE WATCH signifies a major appropriation of Steve Jobs’s reticence for on-off switches. Connecting technology to a timepiece, Apple is connecting the Apple Watch to something that cannot be switched off: time.
In this article, I will argue that the Apple Watch exemplifies a modern view of time that dissipates the fullness of the Christian view of time and, insofar as it does so, should be engaged with cautiously and with a considered engagement with the Sabbath. In pursuit of this, I will seek to show that the Apple Watch is at once both the exemplar of the modern view of time and a warning against the modern view of time, before examining what an appropriation of the Christian view of time might entail.
The ways by which a culture tells the time are often instructive in eliciting its perception of time. Whether a sun-dial, an egg-timer, or a day-planner, the instrument that we use certainly affects how we interact with time, and how we interact with time may even affect what instruments we use. The Apple Watch is no different. Indeed, given Apple’s history in changing the way in which music is played, computers and laptops are designed, and mobile phones are used, the Apple Watch may not only reflect today’s view of the time, but also shape tomorrow’s view of time.
The Apple Watch may not only reflect today’s view of the time, but also shape tomorrow’s view of time.
By briefly examining the marketing employed in anticipation of the formal release of the Apple Watch, I hope to show that it presents a view of time that is symptomatic of the modern mind-set, and can be said to be an exemplar of the modern view of time.
Tim Cook, the current CEO, in the recent ‘Apple Special Event’ on 9th March 2015, summarised the Apple Watch’s main features: “It’s a precise and customisable timepiece. It’s a revolutionary new way to connect with others, and it’s a comprehensive heath and fitness companion." (quoted on the Apple website). We will focus on how the Apple Watch as a timepiece relates to time on the Apple website. Firstly, the emphasis is put on the precision of the Apple Watch’s time-keeping and its customisable watch face:
“High-quality watches have long been defined by their ability to keep unfailingly accurate time, and Apple Watch is no exception. In conjunction with your iPhone, it keeps time within 50 milliseconds of the definitive global time standard. It even lets you customise your watch face to present time in a more meaningful, personal context that’s relevant to your life and schedule
Apple is asserting that time can be controlled with the Apple Watch’s precise time-keeping and the user’s control of customisable watch faces. Time, even in a simplistic sense as a measurement of time and the face of the watch, can be controlled.
Apple is asserting that time can be controlled with the Apple Watch’s precise time-keeping and the user’s control of customisable watch faces.
Secondly, by connecting time with the technology that no longer sits in pockets or on desks but that is wearable, the Apple Watch allows the user to maximise productivity in each moment:
“Make the most of time. Apple Watch is first and foremost an incredibly accurate timepiece. It does everything a watch should, but in ways no other watch ever has. It’s also connected to your calendar and your contacts. So in addition to showing you the time, Apple Watch actually understands what time means to you. It helps you be more productive and efficient. So you get more out of every moment.” (quoted on the Apple website)
On this view of the Apple Watch, time should be controlled by mastering one’s own schedule. Productivity and efficiency are the gauge of whether one makes the most out of time and to what level one makes the most out of time. Time is empty and requires filling.
Thus from the marketing of the Apple Watch as a timepiece, Apple asserts that time can be controlled and time should be controlled.
Thus from the marketing of the Apple Watch as a timepiece, Apple asserts that time can be controlled and time should be controlled. We will see that this is a thoroughly modern pursuit. Peter Berger defined ‘modernity’ as “the institutional and cultural concomitants of economic growth under the conditions of sophisticated technology.” (quoted in Peter Berger, Pyramids of Sacrifice, 1976:34). The institutional conditions include modern scientific and technological establishments, while the cultural concomitants involve fascination with technical domination as well as the “curiously modern penchant for introspection and narcissism” (quoted in Craig Gay The Way of the (Modern) World 1998:10). Craig Gay suggests that the “crucial theme that runs through the list of the institutional and cultural concomitants of economic growth under the conditions of sophisticated technology is that of a particular kind of control,” and that “[while] striving for control over the world characterises worldliness as such, the desire to maintain autonomous control over reality by rational-technical means is particularly central to the modern world. Put somewhat differently, we might say that a modern society is one in which the prevailing conception of the human task in the world is that of matter by way of systematic manipulation.”8 The lure of the Apple Watch’s attempt to control time is a modern one.
The lure of the Apple Watch’s attempt to control time is a modern one.
Having sought to establish the Apple Watch as an exemplar of the modern view of time which emphasises control, we will continue our analysis to cover how the Apple Watch is a warning against such a modern view of time. What follows is the fuller version of the opening quote found at the beginning of the paper. The biographer writes:
One sunny afternoon, when he wasn’t feeling well, Jobs sat in the garden behind his house and reflected on death. He talked about his experiences in India almost four decades earlier, his study of Buddhism, and his views on reincarnation and spiritual transcendence. “I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God,” he said. “For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye.” He admitted that, as he faced death, he might be overestimating the odds out of a desire to believe in an afterlife. “I like to think that something survives after you die,” he said. “It’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.” He fell silent for a very long time. “But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch,” he said. “Click! And you’re gone.” Then he paused again and smiled slightly. “Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”
The full quote is poignant because it is the final wistful insight that we are given of Steve Jobs. In the connection of Jobs’s imminent death with his reticence for on-off switches on Apple devices he had designed and had become synonymous with him, we see his fear in the face of the idea of an on-off switch ‘clicking’ to mark the end of life. He is honest about his previous lack of clarity and present desire for an afterlife, and his very long period of silence belies the clever answer about on-off switches that he makes.
As poignant as it is, the Apple Watch, in connecting technology with time to become the epitome of a device that does not switch off, is a warning against the modern view of time.
As poignant as it is, the Apple Watch, in connecting technology with time to become the epitome of a device that does not switch off, is a warning against the modern view of time. It shows the dangerous trajectory of the modern mindset of control. For Gay, “[f]ollowing closely upon this emphasis on control, a second characteristically modern theme is secularity. For once the range of human responsibilities for controlling the world has been fully delimited, there turns out to be very little room — and indeed very little need — left for God.” (ibid). How this modern secularity relates to the concept of time can be seen from Charles Taylor, a Canadian political philosopher, who provides a diagnosis for the modern mind-set in his 874 page book, A Secular Age (by Charles Taylor, 2007).
In this, the overarching question that is asked is this: “why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?” (quoted in Charles Taylor, 2007:25). To achieve what he calls the ‘Modern Secular Imaginary,’ three ideas of the medieval period had to be overcome: first, that the natural world was an interrelated whole which functioned semiotically as a sign that pointed beyond itself to the supernatural; second, human society was seen as grounded in a higher reality; and third, people lived in an ‘enchanted’ world ‘charged’ with thin boundaries between the natural and the supernatural. The ‘achievement’ of how we got to where we are today is that these obstacles were not only overcome but replaced. In charting the move from the pre-modern mind-set to the modern imaginary, Taylor suggests five concomitant factors. The one relevant for our purposes was the change in time-consciousness. In the pre-modern understanding, because ‘secular time’ was transcended by ‘higher time,’ there was an accounting of time that went beyond the linear or chronological. “‘Secular’ time is what to us is ordinary time, indeed, to us it’s just time, period. One thing happens after another, and when something is past, it’s past. Time placings are consistently transitive. If A is before B and B before C, then A is before C. The same goes if we quantify these relations: if A is long before B, and B long before C, then A is very long before C” (quoted in Charles Taylor, 2007:55).
Higher times “gather and re-order secular time. They introduce ‘warps’ and seeming inconsistencies in profane time-ordering. Events that were far apart in profane time could nevertheless be closely linked.” (quoted in Charles Taylor, 2007:55).
Higher times “gather and re-order secular time. They introduce ‘warps’ and seeming inconsistencies in profane time-ordering. Events that were far apart in profane time could nevertheless be closely linked.” (quoted in Charles Taylor, 2007:55). Thus, “Good Friday 1998 is closer in a way to the original day of the Crucifixion than mid-summer’s day 1997.” (quoted in Charles Taylor, 2007:55).
The change in time-consciousness is one of the five factors that lead to the modern mindset. Taylor calls the environment that this creates the ‘immanent frame’. This metaphorical concept both frames in and keeps out.
“So the buffered identity of the disciplined individual moves in a constructed social space, where instrumental rationality is a key value, and time is pervasively secular. All of this makes up what I want to call “the immanent frame”... [T]his frame constitutes a “natural” order, to be contrasted to a “supernatural” one, an “immanent” world, over against a possible “transcendent” one.” (quoted in Charles Taylor, 2007:55)
That God is kept out is clear in the modern mind-set, but it is worth noting what is framed in. The view of time from encased inside the immanent frame dissipates the fullness of time and has “led us to measure and organise time as never before in human history. Time has become a precious resource, not to be ‘wasted’. The result has been the creation of a tight, ordered time environment. This has enveloped us, until it comes to seem like nature. We have constructed an environment in which we live a uniform, univocal secular time, which we try to measure and control in order to get things done.” (quoted in Charles Taylor, 2007:59).
Thus there is a warning from the example of the Apple Watch and Steve Jobs; modernity seeks to buffer the self against transcendence and anything supernatural, through control and secularisation. However, as Gay notes, the result, “not surprising given the largely secular stress upon taking control of the world, is anxiety. The vast expansion of human responsibility in and for the world, while liberating us from the purportedly suffocating weight of such things as tradition and religion, has turned out to be a heavy burden.” (quoted in Craig Gay, 1998:11). The modern way leaves people feeling “not only exhausted but also inadequate.” (quoted in Dorothy Bass Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time, 2000:58).
The vast expansion of human responsibility in and for the world, while liberating us from the purportedly suffocating weight of such things as tradition and religion, has turned out to be a heavy burden.”
Thus, the Apple Watch provides evidence of the need for a distinctively Christian view of time. Firstly, it must be able to switch ‘off’ from the modern view that time can be controlled and that it should be controlled. As Dorothy Bass notes, “[d]istortions in the shape of our time foster distortions in the shape of our lives and the quality of all our relationships. Indeed these distortions drive us into the arms of a false theology: we come to believe that we, not God, are the masters of time. We come to believe that our worth must be provided by the way we spend our hours and that our ultimate safety depends on our own good management.” (quoted in Dorothy Bass ‘Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time’, 2000:3)
To ’switch off’ also means that Christians must be able to have times where they unplugged, whether it from social media, from Apple devices of all kinds, or TV screens. John Stott, an influential pastor in England, took quiet reflection for one hour a day, one day a week, one weekend a month, and one week a year. While this is ambitious, it might have a larger impact than we realise.
Conversely, a distinctively Christian view of time must not only be able to ‘switch off’, but be able to switch ‘on’ to a ‘higher time’. Taylor offers the concept of ‘higher time’ in relation to ‘secular time’, but he is not alone in distinguishing within ‘time’. Many have also noted the distinction in quality between chronos and kairos in the Bible. With only the former, James K. A. Smith laments that “nothing ‘higher’ impinges upon our calendars — only the tick-tock of chronos, and the self-imposed burdens of our ‘projects’.” (quoted in James KA Smith ‘How (Not) To Be Secular, 2014:34).
Abraham Heschel, the Jewish scholar, in The Sabbath, describes that while for some “time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, qualities, empty shells, the Bible senses the diversified character of time.” (quoted in Abraham Heschel ‘The Sabbath’, 2005:8). That time has an aspect of quality can be transformative to much of modern life for the Christian disciple. Rather than ‘quiet times’ of Bible reading and prayer which are usually ‘quick times’ or ‘quietly rushed times’ (for me), we must be liberated to pursue times of higher quality time with the living God in real-time. Rather than merely functionally eating and walking quickly, seeking a higher quality of time can open up the possibility of sacramental time by stopping to enjoy the cherry blossom and savouring each bite of a crisp apple.
Dorothy Bass encourages the embracing of the seasons of the calendar year, as well as the Christian year beginning with Advent. She expresses the rejection of this with the picture of the land of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when it is frozen in winter (quoted in Bass, 2000:79):
“Creation can bring forth no shoot or flower, and creatures are denied the smells and colours and tastes of new life. They wait and wait, but nothing happens. Advent is endless. Life is all fasting, with never a feast.”
These are different mind-sets and practices that foster an ability to switch ‘on’ and ‘off. The archetypal practice, however, has to be the Sabbath which creates the space for both ‘on’ and ‘off’. Originating from the creation account, God rests, blesses the seventh day and makes it holy (Genesis 2:2-3). While the other days are said to be good, it is the seventh day that is made holy. Herschel draws attention to this peculiarity, and suggests that in the architecture of time, “it seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first.” (quoted in Heschel, 2005:9). As God sanctifies the seventh day, he rests after the finished work of creation. The Sabbath commandment in Exodus 20 has its rationale in creation: the time of the seventh day, like the rest of creation, is a gift to be offered back to the Creator. The Sabbath commandment in Deuteronomy 5 has its basis in the Exodus.
Linking the Sabbath to creation, Jürgen Moltmann has a view of higher time that enables him to draw together the Sabbath, past, present, and future into an understanding of it as the ‘feast of creation’. Creation is the revelation of God’s works while Sabbath is the revelation God’s self, and “the Sabbath opens creation for its true future.” (quoted in Jürgen Moltmann, ‘God in Creation’, 1993:276). It is a celebration of God’s presence, seeing the divine ‘completion’ of creation in the context of Christ’s resurrection for the new creation (quoted in Moltmann, 1993:296). We are to switch ‘on’ to the higher time of communion with the Triune God.
It is a celebration of God’s presence, seeing the divine ‘completion’ of creation in the context of Christ’s resurrection for the new creation (quoted in Moltmann, 1993:296). We are to switch ‘on’ to the higher time of communion with the Triune God.
Walter Brueggemann, on the other hand, gives ballast to see the Sabbath as exodus, liberation, and a rebellious switching ‘off’. The Ten Commandments of Exodus 20 were based on the premise that they had been liberated and given rest. Pharaoh and his desire for productivity demanded “endless produce and who authorise[d] endless systems of production that [were], in principle, insatiable” (quoted in Walter Brueggemann, ‘Sabbath as Resistance’, 2014:2). The God of rest “is on a collision course with the gods of insatiable productivity” and delivers his people from the anxiety-ridden world of Pharaoh. Brueggemann argues that the Sabbath command is the centre of the Decalogue. Rest is found in the Sabbath, outside of any productive demands. Here, there is higher time in which Israel can love God first and then neighbour. Sabbath is an act of rebellious switching ‘off’ to the endless, anxiety-driven demand of an Apple Watch culture to produce more and be more efficient. It is a declaration of independence and freedom to the need to gain identity from productivity from the ways of the modern world.
Written by Lloyd Lee (Regent College, Vancouver)