Thursday, October 25, 2012

Asimov and digital clocks

First off, here's a very brief history of the digital clock, from Wikipedia:
Perhaps the earliest digital timepieces were Plato clocks. These spring-wound pieces consisted of a glass cylinder with a column inside, affixed to which were small digital cards with numbers printed on them, which flipped as time passed. The Plato clocks were introduced at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904, produced by Ansonia Clock Company. Eugene Fitch of New York patented the clock design in 1903.

Josef Pallweber, a Swiss timepiece maker born in Salzburg, Austria, created and produced a mechanic-digital clock model in 1956. The earliest patent for a digital clock was held in the United States by D.E Protzmann and others. Dated October 23, 1956, this patent describes a digital alarm clock. D.E Protzmann and his associates also patented another digital clock in 1970, which was said to use a minimal amount of moving parts. Two side-plates held digital numerals between them, while an electric motor and cam gear outside controlled movement.

In 1970, the first digital wristwatch with an LED display was mass-produced. Called the Pulsar, and produced by the Hamilton Watch Company, this watch was hinted at two years prior when the same company created a prototype digital watch for Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Throughout the 1970s, despite the initial hefty cost of digital watches, the popularity of said devices steadily rose.
 So from the 1970s, digital watches and clocks have been in common use.

This is doubtless what prompted Asimov to write an essay on digital clocks for American Airways Magazine. (At one point he wrote a monthly article for their magazine, and when it went bi-weekly, he wrote two articles a month for them.) It was published in the 29 October 1985 issue of the magazine, over 25 years ago.

The article, Dial vs Digital, is available online as a PDF at:

Contrary to Asimov's prediction, however, digital watches have not taken over. While we have digital clocks on our computers, I just did a search on "Watches" at Amazon, and 2/3rds of the results were analog watches - watches with hands and the "clockwise" typeface.

(That was Asimov's main concern - how could we use clockwise and counterclockwise as directional terms, if kids never learned about the clockface. As well as folks who say, "Look over there at 2 o'clock" to find an object.)

A few folks have written about this article of Asimov's:

  1. Dial Versus Digital
    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
    Dial Versus Digital. Isaac Asimov. There seems no question but that the clock dial, which has existed in its present form since the seventeenth century ...
  2. [PDF] 

    Dial Versus Digital by Asimov.pdf
    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
    kind of clocle to the other. Read why he is concerned about the use of digital clocks. Then answer the questions that follow. Dial Versus Digital. Isaac Asimov ...
  3. this.title() - Dial versus Digital |
    In this essay, Isaac Asimov explains that advances in technology are not always helpful. He believes that the change from clock is not an improvement, and it ...
  4. What do you believe is Isaac Asimov purpose in Dial versus digital › Wiki AnswersCategoriesTechnology
    his main purpose is to make people aware of the consequences that might result if we turn to using digital clocks rather than dial clocks. He wants to inform us of ...
  5. [PDF] 

    Dial Versus Digital
    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
    In "Dial Versus Digital,” for example,. Asimov uses the cause-and-effect structure. He begins by discussing a cause—the loss of the dial clock—and proceeds by ...
  6. Isaac asimov dial versus digital
    Web is rapidly destroying asimov of a twenty or so. are and what you can students to earn.
  7. [PDF] 

    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
    6. “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury. “The Pedestrian” by Ray. Bradbury. “Dial Versus Digital” by Isaac. Asimov. “Montgomery Boycott” by Coretta ...
  8. Asimov Essays about physics
    Essays by Isaac Asimov about physics. Copyright © 1995 ... First Published In: Oct-90, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine ... Dial Versus Digital. Subject: ...
  9. WRII P6: Dial Versus Digital Questions
    Jul 14, 2011 – Did you find Asimov's examples convincing? ... Notice how Asimov organizes information about the effects, ... Dial Versus Digital Questions ...
  10. [DOC] 

    File Format: Microsoft Word - Quick View
    9. How would you express the theme? 10.How is Asimov's essay accessible to everyone? EVALUATING “DIAL VERSUS DIGITAL”. 1. What is the author's tone?


  1. Thank you for sharing these useful post! I have been searching for a gift for my daughter and I'm thinking of a watch or digital clock for her birthday. What you've said about digital clocks is true. There are many benefits that you can get from them that's why they are so popular.

  2. Totally cool but not that kind of surprising although I clearly get Asimov’s point and I don’t have much word to say or to add up on this since it was clearly stated… Thanks for sharing!