I reset the alarm clock. An overlooked mechanism in today’s technologically synchronized world, your phone does everything, it tells the time, it wakes you up, it’s decentralized from a phone. That’s wonderful.
Why? Because before I brought an analog clock back to my bedroom, I spent an average of two hours and 56 minutes in front of a screen a week, and my phone would tell me every Monday, moments after my alarm went off.
And, every morning, when I was only trying to press “snooze”, I would be faced with a flurry of notifications piling up one behind the other like a game of solitaire cards on the screen. My phone was telling me my friends were feeling chatty last night with over 34 Whatsapp messages; there would be Instagram alerts and dozens of emails from multiple accounts. The notifications filled me with dread and stress about the day ahead before I even had my morning coffee.
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I hadn’t realized it at the time, but my old analog clock – a compact travel model – was an understated luxury.
Its design would have paled in comparison to the latest iPhones, but it did its job very well; its piercing, shrill cry was effective in waking me up every morning. Relevantly, it didn’t fill my mind with chatter, bad news, and delays before the day started.
I switched from alarm clock to phone about 10 years ago after telling someone what I thought was a funny story about how my alarm clock once went off in my suitcase while I was in the trunk of a taxi, forcing us to stop if I could retrieve it. The story caused perplexity. “Are you using a real alarm clock?” they asked, as if it were a fax machine. “Why don’t you use your phone?” Ah, I thought. Why not me ? I probably didn’t even know I could at the time. But I succumbed to peer pressure and deleted my old clock. And that’s when the luxury of waking up without notifications ended and the misery of staring at them in the middle of the night when I checked the time on my phone began.
“Reintroducing an alarm clock gives me the time, space and separation that my phone didn’t have.”
As our use of cell phones continues to grow (a 2018 report by Deloitte found that US smartphone users check their phones 14 billion times a day, up from 9 billion in the same 2016 report), health experts -be say it negatively impacts our morning routines.
“When you wake up the first thing, the ideal thing is to wake up and spend some time in your mind before you are bombarded with everything that is going on in the world. Give yourself a chance to adapt to the waking world.” said Lily Silverton, mental health and wellness coach. “Historically, we weren’t used to being so diverted from our attention as we are today.”
Before alarms, it was roosters, church bells, door knockers (people who were paid to wake you up by tapping on the door or window with a long stick, which happened until the 1970s in the industrial Britain) and even our own bladders that got us out of bed. Clockmaker Levi Hutchins of Concord, New Hampshire is widely believed to have invented one of the first alarm clocks in 1787. His design rang only once at 4 a.m., his favorite wake-up time. Little is known about the details of the actual design, but he wrote: “It was the idea of a clock that could sound an alarm that was difficult, not the execution of the idea. It was the very simplicity of arranging the bell to ring at the predetermined time.” Hutchins never patented or manufactured this clock.
It was years later, in 1874, that French inventor Antoine Redier became the first to patent an adjustable mechanical alarm clock. And in 1876, a small mechanical wind-up clock was patented in the United States by Seth E. Thomas, which prompted the great American watchmakers to start making small alarm clocks. German watchmakers would soon follow and by the end of the 1800s the electric alarm clock had been invented.
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Today, alarm clocks come in a number of designs. From riffs on the Panasonic RC-6025 clock radio, immortalized in the 1993 film Groundhog Day, to more retro designs from classic brands like Roberts. A quick Etsy search reveals new designs in the shape of robots, owls, or even bunnies.
Elsewhere, more modern designs include the addition of colored nightlights, projectors (to project the time onto your ceiling or wall! No, thanks), speakers with USB ports, climate and power control. humidity, and even teen-proof bed shakers.
Last year, the late Virgil Abloh’s Off-White label teamed up with Braun to release a pair of stylish, limited-edition alarm clocks. In orange and blue, the design is based on the brand’s classic BC02 alarm clock which, strikingly simple, was originally designed by Dieter Rams and Dietrich Lubs in the 1980s. Fashion label Paul Smith has also released its version of the clock in 2020.
All I was looking for, however, was a simple alarm clock, much like my original. And I got one from the local homewares store nearby for £8.50 (just over $10). The first night I used it, I felt oddly excited as I physically hurt the decor instead of sliding across a screen. The next morning, in a kind of anti-climax, I woke up before the alarm clock. But I already felt like I had conquered the day, instead of continuing it.
According to Silverton, “Technology exploits our psychological weaknesses.” And being connected, she noted, is amazing but terrible at the same time. “It’s about managing that and creating a routine that works for you.”
What I think I have now. Reintroducing an alarm clock gives me the time, space, and separation that my phone didn’t have. Even though my phone is still next to the bed, the difference is that it’s not the first thing I look for anymore. My first utterance of the day is no longer blaspheming over an email and feeling my blood boil, I find myself quietly pondering what I might have for breakfast. Which gave me a sense of control and calm. Oddly, it made me feel younger – I guess because the experience is nostalgic, or maybe because I sleep better. And what could be more luxurious than that?