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11 September 2014

Those shamanic soothsayers of technology – in an array of co-ordinated, non-clashing pastel-coloured shirts – have spoken again. This time they’ve made a watch. And on Tuesday, time stood still as they told us all about it.

I like Apple products just like everyone else. They are beautifully designed, incredibly useful and generally quite well made. But I find the announcements and hysteria surrounding them almost as interesting. The brand-new iPhone 6 Plus appears to be a slightly bigger iPhone. I am yet to cradle the new Apple Watch in my own palm, feel its apparent capability to connect intuitively to my beating heart (steady on “The Future”, we’ve only just met) but from what I can see it’s a smaller iPhone – with a strap.

And yet on Tuesday I dutifully tuned in on time to watch (bits of) the keynote speech and accompanying films. Why? Because Apple events are now a little like watching the Queen’s speech or the World Cup final: they’ve become cultural agenda-setters. U2 even turned up to sing a song. They looked as confused as everyone else about a new timepiece that “references traditional watch vocabulary” (ie, it has a fastener) and comes with a “linear actuator that provides haptic feedback” (er, what?). And that’s OK.

Love them or laugh at them, these events now focus the public consciousness. And in an age when you seem to be able to choose exactly how much or how little you want to understand of anything (again, thanks for that, technology), occasions where we all sit up and listen together are increasingly rare. On one hand it’s a measure of how much people love a product and on the other it’s an almost involuntary mass freakout based on what people think they need.

But although technology might be making life easier I’ve recently been thinking that I’d quite like to be able to remember how to use a pen, or my brain, to figure out a route across town all on my own; things I’ve learned and don’t want to forget. I’m a bit tired of tapping, swiping and staring. Will any of these seemingly essential objects still be useful in a decade? A quieter announcement on Tuesday was the discontinuation of Apple’s iPod, which hasn’t even outlasted the now deeply unfashionable CD.

So maybe amid the fanfare we should start treating pleasant but perhaps not entirely essential products with a little less reverence. In fact, maybe the Apple Watch – small enough to ignore, easy enough to forget – is exactly what we need. Only time will tell.

Tom Hall is a writer and sub editor for Monocle.


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