In recent weeks I have felt the need to take a vacation from my mind and that has meant getting away from writing. As an escape I found myself falling down the rabbit hole of watching a lot of YouTube videos on mechanical watches. I haven’t stumbled upon a single video made by a woman. They’re all made by guys and for guys and they’re all addressed as such. Invariably they start with the greeting, “Hey guys!” They all follow the same pattern and they all use the same words, such as: beater watch, strap monster, robust (movement or construction), everyday watch, dress up or down. Because of this self-referentiality, some of the more entertaining ones make jokes about other watch enthusiasts, such as the true believer in quartz watches who makes sarcastic asides about those who love mechanicals. In fact I’ve now seen so many of these that I could make a parody watch video.
Point being I’ve been lazy, wanting to sit back and be entertained while also informed. In the process I’ve discovered that these watch guys can be very lazy as well. Because of my background in the arts I don’t expect a lot of sophistication in their aesthetic judgments and that’s what you get—crudity and a stunted anemic vocabulary. That’s ok if you also get the information you need. Unfortunately I’d estimate that a good 80% of the content of these videos covers aesthetic observations. So it’s been a lot of skipping ahead or skipping altogether to get around a mountain of empty content. An exclamation of love, for example, is not an aesthetic judgment, and one does not need to have pointed out innumerable features that can readily be seen, such as a polished bezel. I don’t need to be told that something I’m actually looking at has bling. But it’s useful to know how the watch is made, what it is made of and where it is made.
I’m not interested in trashing these guys. In fact I’ll put in a plug for one of them. A guy named Mark from Long Island Watch has a series of videos called “Watch and Learn” that I have found useful. I think he appreciates the importance of accurate information, and I appreciate that very much. I know someone in the fashion industry who refers to this type of YouTuber or blogger as an “influencer” and that is exactly what they are. I myself have purchased a watch based in part on information I’ve gleaned from YouTube videos and I’m very happy with the watch. Some of these influencers have tens of thousands of subscribers (I subscribe to Mark’s videos) and do it for a living and there’s a reason for that. It works. Online business is huge.
But I want to say something about human laziness, mine and that of people I see around me. Because I don’t think the YouTube watch guys are in a special class by themselves. I think they are people like everyone else—plumbers, politicians, scientists, fashion designers and guys who read books on art and write poems. So let’s start with my own laziness. I’ve found it necessary to double or triple check everything a watch guy on YouTube says because they generally can’t be trusted, even the ones with all the subscribers. In short, it’s necessary to dig around a little bit to find the information that I want. YouTube may be a place to start but it’s not even necessarily the best place for that. So why watch so many watch videos? Sheer laziness. If I’ve discovered that I’d best get the information I want elsewhere it’s only because YouTube has caused me to run around more than I wanted to.
So guys, it’s easy to blab for fifteen minutes about how much you like the look of something. It’s a little harder to develop a vocabulary to do that. Even so, how useful is that information to anyone but a dullard who can’t put a tie with a pair of socks? Yeah, I’m making fun of you, dude! All you have to do is go outside and open your eyes and the first flowering bush you see will tell you how to put colors together. More importantly it’s work getting and then communicating accurate information. For example the guy who has a love for quartz watches reviewing an automatic watch and getting the specs of it flat wrong. Here’s the thing—a mechanical watch is a beautiful wonder, a tiny machine with a hundred or more tiny parts that all fit together to make a thing that ticks out seconds to the movement of your hand or arm. That’s amazing. But a watch is also a very simple thing. A particular watch with a particular designation is a specific machine. Its specs are simple facts. But out of laziness many a watch guy will simply ignore them, even if he has a hundred thousand subscribers and does watch reviews for a living.
Human laziness. If this is true about something as simple and basic as a watch (which can only cause inconvenience or expense to the person shopping for a watch) then how much more devastating the consequences when it’s about something more important? Go up the scale of things. What if it’s something that requires a large degree of opinion and nuanced thought, like art? Art is whatever you like, man. Whatever. What if it’s a political issue, an economic issue, a health issue. You know it as well as I do, people all day long throwing out opinions based on whatever. And everyone is special. And every one counts. What time is it? It’s every time, man! It’s just a big beautiful world of assholes painted cherry red. Or make that Trump orange. We have choices here.
Now, someone may counter, Oh, but when it comes to something important people are more inclined to dig into the facts and apply critical thinking. I wish that that were true.
And that is why, considering my interest is in the arts, I think critical thinking about the arts is as important as ever. Because art may be Whatever!, but critical thinking about it is damn good training for the things that matter most in life.