It’s not every day that something comes along which challenges the conventional way of doing things. So Ian Macrae was excited to hear of a new concept in tactile watches from the United States.
Indulge me in a short reminiscence.
In 1973, Australian essayist, poet and song lyricist Clive James along with his musical collaborator Pete Atkin introduced us, to “The Omega Inkablok Oyster Akutron 72, “…the only wristwatch for a drummer in a song on the album A King At Nightfall.
Among the features this fabulous watch sported was “The date in Braille”, and it was so fabulous that “buddy rich wears three – One on the left wrist, one on the right, and the third one around his knee”.
The song is something of a conceit on both flashy jazz and flashy watches (not forgetting flashy drummers like Rich). But what it’s really about is over-hype and the claims of advertising.
And what does this have to do with us? Well, by contrast the marketing of a new type of tactile watch from eonetime.com is a good deal more subtle. And yet, in its own way, the Bradley Timepiece is revolutionary.
And it’s not totally without elements of flash. It’s a “timepiece” after all, not just a watch. This is because the people who are marketing it say it goes beyond being just something you “watch” to tell the time. And it has its own personal name, Bradley.
The scope of its appeal is also ambitious. It’s a watch…sorry, a timepiece which unlike your average tactile watch, is designed to be for everyone.
Getting down to brass tacks, then, let’s start with that name. The Bradley is not just named after someone; it was specifically and originally designed with one person in mind. You might almost say it was inspired by him. He is Lieutenant Bradley (Brad) Snyder, until 2011 an officer dealing with unexploded devices serving with the US Navy in Afghanistan. Then one day one such device blew up in his face and he was blinded.
Newly blinded people clearly confront and are confronted by a whole battery of new problems of which being able to tell the time by means other than sight is only one. But this was one thing Brad and his friends and associates were keen to crack. And in doing so they not so much reinvented the wheel as gave it a whole new twist.
Viewed side on The Bradley looks a little like one of those cheesy biscuit sandwiches with two mini cheddars on the outside and a cheese filling between them. In other words, round the outer rim there’s a groove. In that groove is a ball bearing which travels round the watch’s edge. Touching this ball bearing enables you to tell the hour.
Similarly, on the top face of the watch, inside a ring of raised silver markings is another groove with another ball bearing. Touching this one enables you to tell the minutes. If, in touching the ball bearing you move them, they will usually spring back quite readily to their original position. Alternatively giving your wrist a little shake puts them back to the right time.
When first using the watch, moving the ball bearing seemed like a regular occurrence. However, I quickly got used to the lightness of touch required to avoid this. Having said that, I’m very familiar with telling the time by touch and I think that people not so used to doing things this way might find that they have some difficulty accurately telling the time. Similarly, there may be some people who, for whatever reason are simply not able to touch the watch lightly enough.
I also believe that older people who have maybe lost sight quite late in life would find telling the time this way difficult. But that’s probably true of any tactile watch and they might well find that they’re better suited to one of the many talking products which are now available.
As the body of the Bradley is made of titanium, it is extremely light to wear. It also has the distinction of looking like a watch but being different enough to make people look twice at it.
Now that I’m used to it, I find it by far the quickest and most efficient way of telling time by touch I’ve ever come across. No lid to lift, no button to press.
So while it may lack the multifarious features of that Clive James fantastical timepiece, as a bit of a stick man myself, this seems to me to be a pretty good wristwatch for a drummer.
The Bradley timepiece
Approx. £115 including shipping (subject to exchange rate which may vary).
Q&A with Lieutenant Bradley Snyder:
Take us through the stages you went through following the realisation that you were blind.
I didn’t realize that I was blind for the first week after the incident, largely due to a substantial quantity of pain-killing medication. As my body healed, the medications lessened, and the fog cleared. I recall a conversation with a team of four surgeons who were explaining my final surgery. They explained that there was no hope for my left eye, and they would be removing it completely. They explained that despite the massive trauma my right eye sustained, they were going to attempt to re-adhere my battered retina to the back of my eye in hopes that I might regain some visual perception. When I asked what their expectations of success were, the doctor replied that I had less than a 1% chance of being able to perceive light and dark with my right eye. I found that prognosis to be dismal, and the reality of my blindness as well as uncertainty regarding my end appearance after all the surgeries took the forefront of my thoughts. I hung my head for a moment while my new reality settled in. Knowing that there was nothing I could do to alter this reality, I embraced it. I cracked a joke about how 1% was a lot better than 0%, and offered that I was ready to do whatever was necessary to adapt to my new lifestyle. I believe that my family appreciated the humor, but more appreciated my resolve. They matched my commitment to adaptation, and together we moved forward.
What had your reactions been to blindness and blind people before your injury?
To be honest, I cannot recall meeting anyone with a visual impairment, or even really any exposure to blindness in general.
And how do you feel about blindness and being blind now?
I am humbled by what has been accomplished by individuals without sight! Almost on a daily basis I read a story about someone incredible who has decided to break down the barriers imposed by visual impairment, and does something truly remarkable! From blind children running cross-country, to blind vaulters and mountain climbers, there is no shortage of inspirational examples of how to take charge of our lives and accomplish great things!
Something which came out of the Disability Movement which was born in the states and found a particular voice through the Independent Living Movement at Berkley is the idea that it’s not impairments which disable us; it’s the barriers and attitudes which society presents us with. Do you have any sympathy with that notion?
Absolutely! I believe that is the core message that I carry forward! Blindness happens to be a very apparent barrier that I face, and at times my struggles and limitations are visible to others. But we all face challenges, barriers, and limitations, sometimes they are obvious like a missing leg; sometimes they are invisible like depression. We cannot choose the challenges we will face, but we can most certainly choose how we will interact with that challenge. You can succumb, back down, give up or you can charge forward and embrace each challenge with optimism and gumption!
You’re clearly a close family man. What was the impact of your blindness on those close to you?
I think adapting to my blindness was tough for everyone, especially at first. I think the biggest obstacle at first is the uncertainty or lack of clarity of what the future looks like… How will I get back to living on my own? How will I get around? Will I be happy? As we learned how to walk with a cane, to use the Voiceover on an iPhone, use a colour identifier, and braille we started to see how life was going to be, and we found comfort in that. My family really embraced my future more so than even I did, and I really owe a lot to them!
Tell us about the genius of the Bradley timepiece.
Hyungsu Kim, the founder of Eone Time (Eone stands for “everyone” capturing the ethos of inclusive design) identified the lack of a high-end tactile timepiece. There were watches that the visually impaired community could use, but they all had drawbacks. Hyungsu, along with a team of motivated young engineers and artists, set out to design a tactile timepiece for the visually impaired that would be artful and interesting enough to appeal to sighted users as well. The idea is that the timepiece would be an item that “everyone” would be proud to wear!
Is this notion of it being a “timepiece” just a bit of marketing?
I suppose you could accuse us of that, however, we do believe in challenging the conventional term of “watch.” The Bradley is a tactile timepiece, so you don’t watch it, you feel it! With the term “timepiece” we aim to challenge people to reconsider convention, and think outside the box!
In addition to the above concept, we also aspire to pay tribute to our artists and engineers who so elegantly crafted the Bradley’s design. The term “timepiece” just sounds more artful doesn’t it?