We’re not done with you, stopwatch

What would a stopwatch look like if it were invented today?

Every year, citizens of Zurich take off their clothes and jump into the river. Floating, and with an empty stare, they let the cold water carry them several miles, from downtown to a trendy neighborhood on the other side of the train tracks. Some bring beer. Standing on land you could take a photo, and have a snapshot of the swimming population right at that moment and at that place. Now imagine that each person in the river is a piece of your personal information. Steps taken, the exact location, elevation, time, body temperature, and so on. You just took a snapshot of that. Now take another photo. Then compare the two photos. If you’re still with me, you’re witnessing the creation of the modern stopwatch.

A buttonless stopwatch

It’s so modern it doesn’t even have a start- and stop button. No app to be dug out or apparatus to have in the pocket. When you wonder how long something took, you can find out, just by asking. The modern stopwatch would carefully be writing down everything as it happens. You start walking, your phone jots it down.

Why wouldn’t it also count steps, miles, floors, calories, mouthfuls, words, times you bump your toe into a table?

You stop walking, another jotting session happens. If you’re wondering, you can ask, “how long did I just walk?”, and the modern stopwatch would tell you. This particular one, with the steps, could be created today with relatively little effort. It would be harder to ask questions like “how long did I just laugh?”. But we have to start somewhere. So let’s bring back the button for now, and assign the task of starting and stopping to you, the user.

In the river of data we have all sorts of information, not just time. Why wouldn’t it also count steps, miles, floors, calories, mouthfuls, words, times you bump your toe into a table? Virtually any unit of measurement that floats by with six-packs of IPAs on huge, childish plastic animals in your life’s data version of the river in Zurich. How many words did I utter while walking between two meeting rooms, and how many minutes did it take, how many steps did I take? Does it matter? The modern stopwatch doesn’t judge. It’s all a button press away.

Try it today

Here’s a modern stopwatch experiment on the AppStore and GitHub.

The prototype measures time, distance and how many floors you climbed, as well as what was just in front of you at that given moment in time. The handy thing is that the start and stop button is your camera button. That makes it accessible from the lock screen. And since you already take photos, you will experience a button-less stopwatch. At least sometimes.