All the World in a Wristwatch

What the chip companies hadn't counted on -- ironic, because they had invented the concept -- was that the watch industry, once it went digital, would fall under the regime of Moore's Law and that the long lazy price-performance curve of watches would suddenly take a precipitous fall. The chip companies thought they were getting into the watch business but instead they turned the watch industry into a chip business.

For years thereafter, Intel's Gordon Moore wore an Intel/Microma digital watch -- he called it his "$35 million" timepiece -- as a reminder "to never get into a consumer business you don't fully understand."

The lesson: Technological revolutions not only create new industries, but new business cycles as well.

But the biggest lesson of all is the last. And you can learn it merely by looking closely at each one of those astonishingly powerful, $10 watches you see in that Fred Meyer kiosk.

You see, every one of those watches is analog. At least they are on the outside. Their mechanisms may be digital circuitry rather than escapements, gears and springs, and they may feature a little window for a digital read-out, but their faces, with their numbers and hands, would have been familiar to a Tudor prince. Why? Because that's the way we like it. And that is enough, because we are the consumers.

At some now-forgotten moment, probably in the late 1980s, the novelty of digital watches wore off, and simple human taste reasserted itself. And when it did, we discovered two things: 1) that we wanted our digital watches for specific applications, and we wanted them to be sturdy, powerful and disposable, and 2) that we wanted our "real" watches, now that we live in an age of ubiquitous clocks, to be elegant and expensive jewelry containing clever little mechanical contraptions. And that is the way it has been ever since.

So the final lesson, one that every Web 2.0 tycoon and budding tech entrepreneur should never forget, is that: However great the innovation, in the end human nature will have its way.

They might want to stop by a wristwatch kiosk at a nearby mall every once in a while just to remind themselves.

This is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michael S. Malone is one of the nation's best-known technology writers. He has covered Silicon Valley and high-tech for more than 25 years, beginning with the San Jose Mercury News as the nation's first daily high-tech reporter. His articles and editorials have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, the Economist and Fortune, and for two years he was a columnist for The New York Times. He was editor of Forbes ASAP, the world's largest-circulation business-tech magazine, at the height of the dot-com boom. Malone is the author or co-author of a dozen books, notably the best-selling "Virtual Corporation." Malone has also hosted three public television interview series, and most recently co-produced the celebrated PBS miniseries on social entrepreneurs, "The New Heroes." He has been the ABCNews.com "Silicon Insider" columnist since 2000.

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