Hilariously, with the sort of timing that would be implausible in a story, the private school that laid me off in June contacted me at 3PM this past Sunday to ask if I could substitute for an English teacher in the middle school. Unable to look a gift job in the mouth, I accepted, despite my girlfriend Molly’s lack of usable feet and my guilt at the prospect of being unable to care for her. (She endured an almost comically brutal-sounding three hour session of anesthetized bone-breaking a week ago and since then has been mostly confined to the couch, with the exception of periodic teeth-shatteringly painful five square foot trips.) I had spent all summer preparing myself for the reality that I would not be returning to work at this school, with its brilliant students and requisite idyllic green spaces, only to return on the first day of the year, freshly razor-burned, as if nothing had changed except my salary and my confidence.
I have next to no experience teaching middle schoolers, least of all fifth graders, who to the unfamiliar eye appear no different from dexterous, bespectacled toddlers. Eighth graders are a unique blend of childish enthusiasm, acne, and an adolescent predilection for savagery and meanness. It was sort of fun, mostly exhausting work. I felt sad a lot for the younger students. They are so earnest and sweet, so concerned with not dropping anything and with finding their little meandering ways around the unfamiliar campus, that I felt a bit like crying whenever I looked at any of them. I have this thing about kids eating at cafeteria tables, too. When I see a table of little kids eating lunch, each with his or her own preferences and private thoughts, thinking thankfully of whomever made them the meal, occasionally pushing too-large glasses back up their noses with tiny, applesauced index fingers, I want to lock myself in a room and weep shamelessly at how adorable they are. I suppose it’s good I don’t work in a middle school full-time if simply opening my eyes is such a moving experience.
I left and voted for Zephyr Teachout, which I had looked forward to doing for weeks. More on the Moreland Commission later, after she loses.
I was thinking earlier about the Apple Watch, which was announced today. A friend asked me what I thought about it, given my interest in watches. I can’t say I’m that amazed by it– not because it’s not a cool object, but because it isn’t really a watch.
There is a reason wearable technology has not really taken off, and there is a reason the Apple Watch will probably sell pretty well for a couple of months and then fade away. Flashy technology, rounded edges, and reflective surfaces may be appropriate for cellphones, which are functional objects that we keep in our pockets, but once you tape the sexy cellphone to your wrist, it may suddenly seem out of place, like it doesn’t match or fit with what you’re wearing or how you’d like to look. Not everyone wants to wear khakis or a sundress with a little gold square that looks like something out of I, Robot.
The functionality of the Apple Watch seems appropriate, with all of the anticipated GPS and heart monitor bullshit (should I ask how many of us, excepting the ill, were clamoring to be apprised constantly of our pulse rate?). That will please everyone who wondered if Apple could duplicate an iPhone on a wristband (which the iPod nano already did). But I have a nagging feeling that the only reason the Apple Watch is striking anyone as really cool and futuristic is because the idea that a watch could be a walkie-talkie etc. was implanted in the fantasies of the consuming public by James Bond movies made fifty years ago.
The price ($350) is a bit high. A watch with a quartz movement (battery-powered) should need a new battery every four or five years. A mechanical watch (powered by a spring that winds on its own or that the wearer winds manually) that is serviced every five or ten years will tell time indefinitely. I own a pocket watch that is more than 100 years old that keeps near-perfect time (+/- five seconds a day). The battery in the Apple Watch, on the other hand, if it is anything like the batteries in iPhones and iPods, will degrade by 50% in a year’s time. Because Apple purposely builds all of its products so that a typical person, or even a person with a special set of tools, cannot really do any maintenance or repairs on his own, you will need to either sit idly by as your Apple Watch commits harakiri or pay a levitating neckbeard at a Genius Bar money to replace the battery for you.
People think about electronic devices very differently from the way they think about analog devices, which in turn are very different from nonfunctioning jewelry. The ageless, heirloom aspect of a watch, which is always somewhere in the owner’s mind for a watch of significant value (and often for cheap watches, too), is totally absent from something like a cellphone or the Apple Watch. You can see that Apple is aware of this: that is why they granted the plebes the option of buying the watch in stainless steel or 18 karat gold. That is an attempt to lend the totally replaceable, non-unique object an aura of preciousness, of value that is conspicuous and inarguable.
Consider the peculiar status that gold has in our world. Money has a fluid, changing value: one day $350 may buy an Apple Watch and twenty years later it may be a reasonable tip for a nice meal for two. Gold, however, guarantees that though the value of a given amount of money may fluctuate, it will always have a value. The gold standard, even thought it was abolished decades ago, cements our financial system and all of its mercurial transactions in an unquestionably natural place, somewhere deep underground, as if the value of gold is irrefutable and God-given. We no longer pay for things with gold because gold now stands outside the symbolic order. It is a nodal object that grants value to the “meaningless pieces of paper” that we use to buy things.
Several years ago, in an impressively philosophical, insane maneuver, Glenn Beck advocated a return to the gold standard. This is the most perfect realization of the fantasy that justifies the far-right conservatism we have in the United States. Things, Beck would have us believe, have gotten completely out of control, the President is asleep at the wheel, and numbers are going up and down like crazy. The only solution is to reinstall the all-powerful, God-given leader, the unquestionable source of authority and law, our hubristic deposition of whom precipitated our fall from grace. We need to remind ourselves and the world of the One True Judge, who is omnipotent and unquestionable, our lack of faith in whom is a terrible, punishable sin. This is the fantasy that gold really does contain intrinsic value that does not derive from its use value. It is a religious fantasy, and it does not matter whether you spell it “God” or “Gold.”