Remember When Swatch Invented a New Time System for the Internet?


In a world where people are awake at all hours of the day and people on different sides of that globe can communicate with one another instantaneously, why do we need multiple time zones? We all use the same internet—why not the same time zone?

This sounds like a bizarre question to raise even in 2017, especially when the answer to the question is right above us—the sun and the moon, of course!

But in 1998, the Swiss watch company Swatch, working in tandem with the founder of the MIT Media Lab, nonetheless pitched the wild idea of redesigning the time system—throwing out the 24-hour day with 1000 “.beats”—periods, lasting a minute and 26.4 seconds, that effectively gave the time system the consistency of the metric system.

While it wasn’t as useful for Caparo as it could have been—in no small part because his company was mostly dealing with local clients, not global ones—he was so into the idea that in 1998, he actually created a Windows app that put Swatch Internet Time into the user’s task bar. (I installed the app on the same Windows 2000 virtual machine I used to run the WebTV web browser a while back. Yep, it works as advertised.)

Of course, convincing an entire world of people to throw out their old watches and replace them with recalibrated equivalents was always going to be a hard sell, and by 2003, the online energy around the concept had deflated entirely—with even the hardcore enthusiasts moving on.

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