ecently, at one of those big conferences in Silicon Valley, we were told that, before long, it will no longer be possible to tell a synthetic voice from that of an actual human. We will no longer be certain whether we’re talking to an “intelligent” machine or a real being made of flesh and blood, however intelligent or stupid they may be! (And if they are stupid, that’s probably a reliable sign that they are human. But then again...) At a time when artificial intelligence and its algorithms, fed by Big Data, can give your virtual interlocutors the ability to adapt to you with frightening accuracy (the machine will ask you if your little one has recovered from the flu – and it will know about this because, unbeknownst to you, it’s one of your Facebook “friends”), the virtual world becomes the stuff of nightmares. Big Brother is a garden gnome in comparison. Given that we have no way of avoiding these developments, we shall have to find ways of circumventing them.
And it’s already happening. The vehicle for this circumvention is culture, defined as: “a set of ways of thinking, feeling and acting shared by a group of people who form a specific and distinct social grouping.” The world of watches is, above all, a culture. It’s a culture expressed through products, but it both precedes those products and extends beyond them.
The evidence is clear from the recent changes we have seen in watch fairs and salons. As the bigwigs of the SIHH said about their forthcoming fair in 2019: “This strategy to open SIHH to the world and be part of the digital era... with a vast programme of content, with talks, panel discussions and debates, contributes to the fair’s international reach and adds to the desirability of Fine Watchmaking throughout the world.” But “the SIHH is an event that has to be experienced.” And, thanks to the SIHH Live programme, “it can now be experienced anywhere in the world, and by the 20,000 visitors who are again expected in Geneva next year.” Is it nothing more than a need to touch the products, and rub shoulders with one’s peers? Consider this: why do Google’s top managers send their kids to the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, where screens are prohibited, to learn to knit, write with chalks on a blackboard, and practise arithmetic by cutting fruit tarts into slices?
Because culture is learned together, in the real world, where all our senses can be engaged.