If I was almost in tears when I unplugged it from the wall, then I was certainly 100% crying as I carried my Magnavox AJ 3920 Clock Radio down my basement steps and placed it, carefully (as a sign of reverence) on a shelf in my basement. It wasn’t the same as throwing it away, but it might as well have been. It’s currently sitting next to old laptop bags, motherboard retail boxes from computers I built years ago, and leftover carpet from when I redid the living room floor.
“You’re a hoarder, you should just throw it away” my wife said. Couldn’t she see how hard this was for me? Here I was, taking something I’ve used, without fail, for almost every day of the past 21 years of my life. And it never once let me down. I couldn’t just set this out for the trash. It was better than that.
It was then I realized: this old alarm clock was my favorite piece of technology I’ve owned over the course of my life.
I received this alarm clock as a birthday present when I was in 10th grade, back in 1996, and man was I hyped. This baby had it all: nice LCD back-lit display. AM/FM radio. A CD player, to play all my Ice Cube albums. Speakers that made everything sound like had a decent amount of kick. Dual alarms that could use the radio, too. And best of all? This sucker was LOUD and would wake me (and roommates/college neighbors/apartment neighbors) up every time, without fail.
I feel like as I’ve grown up with this alarm clock too. It was there to wake me up before school every day. It was there to wake me up to make sure I got to my SATs on time. It was to wake me up for college visits. It was there to wake me up for 8 AM college classes. That same clock radio was there while I was studying and I wanted to hear music (yes, before we only listened to music through our computers or smart devices). It helped me listen to the events of 9/11 unfold as I listened to Howard Stern that fateful morning. It woke me up for midterms and exams. For graduation. For interviews. For my first day of full-time employment. For surgeries. For my wedding. For vacations and business trips. It’s always been there so many stages of my life.
It’s been hit by power surges. I probably spilled different fluids on it. Didn’t matter. It just keep on ticking away time. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, years… it just kept on keeping me on-time. Until yesterday.
I came back up from the basement, and walked back towards the bedroom. In the place where we used to have the clock radio, now there’s an Echo Spot. It’s got a nice display, it’s loud, and I can just tell the nice lady to set an alarm. And it all works. It’s fine. I got woken up today by it.
Is it the really the same, though? When does something like an alarm clock stop being just a device and end up being something you get so attached to? Is it because it’s reliable? Simple? If you think about your favorite and most useful pieces of technology, you’d pick the most obvious: smartphones, am I right? How can we ever go back to a time where we didn’t have them. Most of us can remember a time before we had them, and then we’d probably pick something like a cell phone, or a laptop computer. And before that? Desktops. Televisions. Telephones. Radio. Stuff you read about all the time when people talk about groundbreaking inventions.
There’s an entire class of tools and technologies, though, that don’t seem as, well, “sexy” as the latest smartphone. My alarm clock (well, any alarm clock for that matter) probably fits into that category perfectly. In an era where an increasing number of people use their phones as alarm clocks, there really is something special about a device that wakes you up, on time, to start your day. There’s no special setup other than first making sure the time is set right, and then setting the alarm. That’s it. No patches, no hackers (well, maybe), no subscriptions, no accounts, no Alarm Clock X or Alarm Clock Galaxy S9 that you have to upgrade to as part of a planned obsolescence. It’s just… set it and forget it. Literally. And as long as it has power (and even if it doesn’t) it’ll keep time and keep YOU in time. It’s priceless and we probably can’t function as adults (or young adults) without them.
Even though what I have is an “upgrade” in the technological sense, I can’t help but feel like a special part of me is gone now. The robots win (this time). Now if you’ll excuse, I need to get back to listening to Greensleeves on repeat.