Relics of the First Computer Age

I just discovered in an old drawer a unique Seiko digital prayer wrist watch made in about 1986 in Japan. What’s more it’s gold plated which makes it pretty unique. How quickly things seemed to have moved on from that time through the 1k Spectrum computer to the sleek 27″ desktop flat screen computers we use almost universally now in the developed world (ie those who can afford to buy one). Back in 1986 I was working for an advertising agency near London who were handed the account to advertise the new Seiko Spacetronic watch which had the Muslim prayer times for most cities in the world programmed into its micro chip. I had to publicise it as best I could and we did a launch in London and got front page in the Guardian with a short article which, if I remember right, registered interest mixed with a bit of amusement or was it sarcasm? I also had to organise an interview for ITV by reporter Mark Austen, with the Egyptian inventor of the watch, Ibrahim Salah (I think this was his name). The example I had was a sample (one of several) we had in the office which I appropriated when the company went bust.

Prayer clocks at that time were nothing new but were mostly fairly primitive affairs imported from Pakistan or China with analog dials and usually with the recording of a call to prayer intermingled with bird song and running water – presumably to get you out of bed a little more quickly to run to the bathroom. But the idea of a prayer wrist watch was quite unique. I don’t believe it was a commercial success but was unique enough to be placed in The National Museum of Australia.(Object number 1995.0009.0001) So if they are reading this, maybe they would like my watch to add to their collection. All offers considered.

In 1986 in graphic studios we still used galley proofs, Letraset and wax machines and scalpels to stick artwork together. So in 25 years or more we have left all that behind for the comfort of a screen and mouse. And I really don’t miss it. But for those who were born 30 years ago they did miss it completely in a different way. But all that drawing board work taught you a lot about type and how graphical things are constructed. We also used pens and pencils much more and such things as RSI and carpal tunnel syndrom were unheard of. The most we suffered from was back ache leaning over a drawing board. Seeing the graphic in front of you in a tangible form on paper has its plusses. The virtual world of the computer can be very misleading.

Now in 2012 we have our personal prayer apps for our smart phones which call the prayer in a style of your choice (Makka, Medina, Cairo) or in the case of one app your own recording. It is slightly disconcerting to hear your own voice doing an adhan in the dark of dawn or more so if you are sitting talking to a doctor (as happend to me) and have the thing go off in my pocket…Allahu Akbaaaaar…….. The app even knows where you are and the correct times. It is a far cry from judging the time of the middle prayer by the shadows, something which should not be forgotten, but I confess to a certain dependency on this kind of gadget (bless its little circuits) as it is a real reminder of these cosmic moments through the span of the day.

All very useful in fact but a reflection too of how atomised and scattered we have all become with our personal muezzins calling us to prayer in our own homes or offices. Outside of the Muslim lands a public call to prayer is rare and in places like lovely old secular France probably illegal. In Granada you will hear the adhan (not amplified I might add) called out at all the prayers except the dawn prayer, in the Albaycin, the old Muslim quarter of the city. But without a PA it is quite faint but audible even half a mile away, if there is not too much ambient noise. Not so in Istanbul of course where the amplified adhans thunder down every street leaving you in no doubt. The power of such a thing meant that Liam Neeson the actor became fascinated with it when filming in Istanbul recently, to the extent that he was considering embracing the religion!

It is quite sobering to see something in a museum like the Seiko prayer watch, which was once a novelty gadget to marvel at – now just a useless piece of metal. A reminder that we will all qualify for a museum in the not too distant future in the Relics of the First Computer Age section.

About Ian Whiteman

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5 Responses to Relics of the First Computer Age

  1. Feraz Petrus Nicolas Ahmed says:

    WOW!! This post made my day! Nice to see this watch again, I never knew it was made by Seiko. I have been looking for information on it for the last years, this page helped a lot.
    I have been wearing the ”Prayer compas” Casio CPW-310 (made in 1992) for the last 4 years, and I am still flabbergasted, by its accuracy every day. Living as high on the globe in Holland or GB is a harder task to calculate for prayer watches, esspecially when the date comes closer to 21 december and 21 june. But those Japanese guys really have some brains!
    5 years ago I collected some ‘NERD’ watches
    Do you still have this watch by the way? Did it have a digital compass too?

    I am wondering if it works just as good as similar watches from nowadays, like al-Asr, al-Fajr, Casio. there was even a swiss Dalil watch with an analoge compass in the 70s.

    Wa alaykoem salaam/Greetings,
    Feraz from Holland

    • Ian Whiteman says:

      I still have the Seiko watch – gold plated in fact – but haven’t used it for almost thirty years. I think tbat the many prayer time apps on smart phones have made them obsolete. As I said in the blog they can only be found in museums now…probably the best place for them. I wonder if they have any value as antiques.

  2. Feraz Petrus Nicolas Ahmed says:

    Of course they have value, but a (western) museum would probably go for other watches like the Seiko Talking watch. I would even like to buy it from you, and hope to make it running again. Clean the inside from the battery which must have leaked after 30 years :P. But is it really gold plated? Because muslim men are not supposed to wear gold, maybe that’s why it wasnt a great succes. Seiko was infact very succesful, they were the number one innovator in digital watch manufacturing, but this Spacetronic being developed specifically for Western muslims with money to spend in the 80s, while most were migrant workers could also be a reason. Maybe it was a succes in Middle-eastern oil exporting countries.


  3. wso blackhat says:

    Wonderful website you have here but I was curious if you knew
    of any message boards that cover the same topics discussed here?
    I’d really like to be a part of online community where I can get opinions from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thanks!

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