This “Death Watch” Allegedly Counts Down the Last Seconds of Your Life | Innovation | Smithsonian
Current Issue
November 2014 magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

This “Death Watch” Allegedly Counts Down the Last Seconds of Your Life

A watch that predicts when its wearer will expire is proving popular with the masses. But why?

smithsonian.com

Credit: Fredrik Colting

There’s now a watch that reminds us of the one appointment that we won’t be able to cancel. It’s called the Tikker. And it counts down the minutes, and even seconds, we have before we will likely meet our demise.

Currently being sold on the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter, the concept for a so-called “death watch” isn’t as morbidly depressing as it may appear on the surface. In fact, the watch’s creator, Fredrik Colting, believes his invention does exactly the opposite by inspiring and motivating people to “live better.”

For Colting, the cold finality of death had only fully set in when his grandfather passed away several years ago. Tikker was born out of his desire to figure out a way to use this acceptance to spur positive changes in one’s life. “It’s my belief that if we are aware of death, and our own expiration,” says Colting, “that we will have a greater appreciation for life.”

To arrive at an estimation of how much longer someone has to live, users fill out a questionnaire that’s designed to add or subtract years based on current age, exercise habits and other health related factors. That exact time can then be programmed into the watch, at which point the final countdown begins.

However, the method in which Tikker calculates each person’s individualized expiration date is superficially scientific at best. Though the use of so-called longevity calculators have gained some credibility among researchers, some experts, such as actuary Steve Vernon of the Stanford Center on Longevity, have warned that people shouldn’t rely too much on these kind of approximations since there’s a “50 percent chance you’ll live beyond this estimate.” As an example of how inexact these kind of formulas are, Vernon tested popular online calculators from the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, livingto100.com and bluezones.com. His results were 95, 101 and 95.6 years, respectively. In any case, it’s probably best not to view this generated date as a hard deadline.

Instead, Colting says, the notion of a “use by” time stamp is supposed to have more of a symbolic meaning and can serve as a practical reminder to pay heed to some of the often-echoed existential epiphanies such as”Carpe Diem!” and “You only live once!”

“Everyone can relate to this, it’s universal,” says Colting. “We also live in more stressful times, with constant connection to our office emails, and Tikker can be a reminder for us to stay grounded and remember what is important in our lives.”

At the same time, the idea can also be seen as nothing more than a clever gimmick to sell a fairly basic digital wristwatch for $39 (it also displays local time). Reactions from the perusing media have ranged from slightly patronizing to wholehearted ridicule. TechCrunch blogger Jordan Crook comments that Tikker’s appeal is derived from being simply “a constant reminder to go out and live life well and happily” and in doing so “automatically tugs on the heart strings of consumers.” And Time magazine’s tech reporter Doug Aamoth may have encapsulated the collective chuckle of those who’d rather not feel like a walking time bomb when he mockingly declared he’ll set his timer “for every Tuesday and then cackle manically as I repeatedly cheat death.”

Some of you may recall the late Steve Jobs’ famous, widely-circulated 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, where he mentioned how every morning he would look into the mirror and ask himself what he would do if that day was his last. He certainly didn’t need some gadget to constantly remind him that precious seconds of his life were ticking away in order to make the most of it or to keep things in perspective.

But then again, some of us do.

“It’s part of our lives, no matter if we like it or not, and if we can just learn to use Tikker, and the fact of death to our advantage while we are alive, to become happier, more loving, and better people,” Colting says. “I can’t see how that can be a bad thing to anyone.”

Tags
About Tuan C. Nguyen
Tuan C. Nguyen

Tuan C. Nguyen is a Silicon Valley-based journalist specializing in technology, health, design and innovation. His work has appeared in ABCNews.com, NBCNews.com, FoxNews.com, CBS' SmartPlanet and LiveScience.

Read more from this author

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus