One of my all-time favourite comfort films* is Stranger than Fiction.
The under-appreciated story of Harold Crick (Will Farrell), an I.R.S. auditor who begins to hear the narration of his life going through his head. This experience becomes more unnerving when the voice states that the author, Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) must figure out how to kill Harold. This existential experience takes the tax agent on a journey to find the narrator of his life before he dies.
It is hard to imagine that this is one of the most heart-warming and clever depictions of discovering the value of life in modern cinema. Especially since at the heart of the film is the influence of Harold Crick’s watch. A Timex Ironman Dual Tech Triathlon T56371 that never speaks but does manage to become the determining factor in the life of a man who lives an exact, methodical and lonely life.
Stranger Than Fiction was released in 2006, before the introduction of smartwatches. Little did I know how my life would eventually become stranger than fiction. No, I do not hear voices in my head, except when I listen to my favourite podcasts on the train. Harold Crick’s life was more of a reflection of my life when I bought an Apple watch.
Being in full-time Christian ministry, I managed to purchase my first Apple watch off eBay. The watch was still an indulgence, but it seemed to be justified because it was not full price. (Just let me live in my small world of delusion.) It was exciting to see how it connected me to the world in a new way by placing the majority of my iPhone’s functions on my wrist. Plus it helped me to monitor my workouts, counted my steps for me and even told me when to breathe. The ultimate statement of its worth came when one day it warned me that I had an elevated heart rate and encouraged me to get to the hospital to avoid a health scare.
Everything seemed fine, but then something happened to cause a rift in the relationship between my Apple watch and me. Well, actually two things. The first was the realisation that there was an automatic need for me to replace my watch after two years. New software, battery wearing out and the cool new features of the latest Apple watch was quite a temptation. This was a substantial outlay of cash in comparison to just replacing a battery in a perfectly good watch that sat idle on my nightstand. The second and more significant was that the watch was causing me stress.
I thought it would be nice to get my messages, texts and emails on my watch. No need to always look at my phone or computer, I could just look at my wrist and I would be connected to the world. Yet, that was the point, I was always connected to the everyone and everything with the watch on my wrist. People came to expect immediate responses to every communication that came through my wrist. Instantaneous expectations and demands for my time and attention. The watch was dictating my life.
I realise it is an inanimate object. Still, those well-intentioned people behind every message, notification and reminder wanted my attention in their time. It all came to a head while I was in a Bible study and I watched many of the men in the group continually looking at their own smartwatches. Interrupting thoughts, discussions and relationships, for what? A sports score, a quick SMS or a reminder to breathe? Whatever it was, it made me wonder if it was more important than what we were doing at that moment.
All of this led to the ‘great uncoupling.’ I sold my Apple watch. I got a battery and a new watch band for my beautiful and reliable watch that does what a watch is meant to do, it tells time. No more reminders, no more messages and I be sure to remind myself to stand up regularly. It is quite freeing and I still know exactly what time it is wherever I might be during the day.
To be clear, I still have my phone, computer and other technology. This decision has not made me want to go completely tech-free or invest in hemp clothing and Birkenstocks. I merely have unlocked the Apple watch handcuff and I am loving it. Also, this is not a judgment against others who choose to wear a computer on their wrist, it is just a small personal step towards freedom and less stress.
Let me close with the final excerpt from Stranger Than Fiction:
‘Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren't any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction.’
‘And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorise our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true. And, so it was, a wristwatch saved Harold Crick.’
I am thankful to God for all I have in my life and it is He, not a wristwatch that saved me. I am even grateful for going through the years of wearing the Apple watch, but thankful for the watch I have now. It tells time and that is just fine with me.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing (or watches); it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8
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Russ Matthews works for City Bible Forum as the Engaging Manager. He enjoys developing large public forums throughout the city to engage workers with the bigger questions of life. He oversees The Edge and Reel Dialogue.