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What is Internet Time, and can I buy a watch that tells it?


As you can see by this circa 2000 Swatch Beats product photo, the watch showed local time as well as Internet Time -- and it was @423 Internet Time when the photo was taken.
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Internet Time, a concept developed by the Swiss watch manufacturer Swatch in the late 1990s, basically boils down to this: Gee, wouldn't it be cool if we could get rid of all those confusing international and regional time zones, so that everywhere on Earth, everyone's clock or watch showed the exact same time?

In an age in which we're increasingly interconnected with people in distant countries, having the same time everywhere would have some huge advantages. For example, if you're in New York and you have an appointment to call someone in Barcelona or Beijing at 2 p.m., you wouldn't have to rack your brain to calculate what time that will be over there -- or worry that they meant 2 p.m. their time, which means you'd need to do the same calculation in reverse.

But there's a bit more to it than that. What if we also got rid that cumbersome system of hours, minutes and seconds, and the semicolons we use to separate those numbers? And, what if we ditched the a.m. and p.m. distinction as well? Why not just have a single three-digit number, preceded by an at sign for a certain moment in time? After all, when you're standing in line to pick up your order at a pizza parlor, the number on your receipt usually is something easy to remember like "124," and that seems to work pretty well, doesn't it?

That's pretty much the idea. In Swatch's Internet Time system, the day is divided into 1,000 "Swatch beats," each equivalent to one minute and 26.4 seconds. Each day starts at @000, which happens to coincide with midnight in Biel, Switzerland, where Swatch's headquarters is located [source: Harmon].

In 1999, Swatch founder Nicolas Hayek told The New York Times that Internet Time was the wave of the future. ''The Internet has made human beings more globally conscious of being on a small planet where we are all really equal,'' Mr. Hayek said. ''Internet time is the perfect measuring stick for this era.'' The company envisioned making a mint selling $70 watches that displayed "Swatch beats" alongside the local time [source: Harmon].

But as you may have deduced from the dearth of people e-mailing you to set up an appointment at @84 or @242, Internet Time never really caught on. Today, the company still provides a calculator on its Web site that allows you to convert local time into Swatch beats and vice-versa. But it's not very useful, since the company no longer sells watches that display Internet Time. Why didn't the idea go viral?


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