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Thursday, October 17, 2019

The latest new gadget that’s been catching the attention of tech lovers and consumers everywhere is undoubtedly the Apple Watch. Announced by Apple last year and being released on April 24, the Watch is the company’s first new type of product since it created the iPad tablet. It’s also possibly their least practical; I mean, do we need yet another gadget taking up our attention? Isn’t our plethora of phones and computers and screens enough?

I’ll be the first to admit that I use my phone far too often. When I have a free moment with nothing else to do, I’ll take it out and check my Facebook feed or email inbox for the umpteenth time. When I’m waiting at a street corner for the light to change, or waiting for someone to answer their door after I knock, I’ll glance at it just to see something quickly. I’ve even caught myself checking social media when my real friends are in the room. In other words, I already am nearly addicted to one gadget; do I need another one that resides on my wrist and is even more accessible than my phone?

On the other hand, the Apple Watch—and the burgeoning Smartwatch category in general—certainly is quite the looker. More importantly, its functionality is meant to supplement your phone, not replace it. You can send small messages, get navigation directions, and find out the weather quickly without needing to pull anything out of your pocket, and then go back to what you were doing seamlessly. For me, it would be amazing to be able to bring up the Ramaz High School schedule on my wrist and to check where my next class is more quickly than checking the schedule screenshot on my phone. (When you’re rushing to class, a few seconds is the difference between life and death. Or, to be less dramatic, being on time or coming in after the bell.)

With all of this in mind, I went to the Apple Store some time ago to test out the watch. (I came in wearing my $6 Casio digital watch, mind you.) Even though it hadn’t been released yet, I wanted to get to try out the Apple Watch and see if it really did anything that special. Especially given its price, which ranges from $350 all the way to $17,000.

I kid you not. Some of the varieties of Apple Watch cost a decent chunk of pocket change. For that price, you’d expect it to be able to recite the entire Talmud to you, right? But the price really comes from the fact that the priciest edition of the watch (aptly named the Apple Watch Edition) is formed from gold, both in the body and in the clasp. The more gold, the higher the price.

In some ways it seems almost disgusting. Those thousands of dollars that people might spend on the watch could be used for far better things, like zedaka or vacations or a down payment on a house. It’s the epitome of materialism and wastefulness. Is anyone truly going to buy such a thing?

I tried on two varieties of the Apple Watch Edition and got a demo from an Apple employee. (No, I did not wear them both at once; I haven’t exercised my wrist enough yet to withstand that.) It certainly looked beautiful; the well-made leather straps and the opulent gold bodies of the watches looked perfect. I’ll admit that I saw the watch’s appeal, how it really could be seen as a status symbol and as a very fashionable wearable. I was shown the watch’s software—how it could navigate turn-by-turn directions, make calls, get website updates (Facebook on your wrist—if you thought having it on your phone was bad enough)… I was even shown how much thought went into the watch’s changeable faces; one was apparently made of hundreds of high-resolution photographs.

Then I got a chance to try on the other end of the spectrum—the cheaper, plastic-and-steel Apple Watch Sport. The casing is still nice-looking but not as valuable, and the strap feels like it would be great for running but not for a wedding. However, it was then that I realized that Apple has—probably unintentionally—worked a sly but appreciable message into their spectrum of Apple Watches.

What was the difference between the Editions and the Sport that I tried on? It was all cosmetic: the casing, the bands, the style, the price. What was the same? The software. The cheapest Apple Watch (…which admittedly isn’t so cheap, but relative to the others) does all of the same futuristic functions as its pricier siblings. It has the same silicon inside, same processor speed, and overall same usefulness or uselessness, depending on how you look at it. You can pay more if you want to look better or feel more exclusive, but the most important part is the same for everyone. I mean, without the software, what’s the point of the Apple Watch?

We spend a lot of time worrying about appearances, worrying about how we look on the outside to others. We want to have the most accomplishments, to wear the sharpest clothing, to have the best bragging rights. There’s a lot of merit, of course, to trying your hardest to accomplish the most you can and to look your best. But it’s not the only thing or even the most important thing. What’s on the inside, the “software,” is what counts. It’s the great equalizer, in a sense. Some people are destined to have more money or more accomplishments, but we all control our own personal character and outlook on life. We can all improve on ourselves and make ourselves the best we can be, no matter what our outside appearances may look like.

So I left the Apple Store having realized a surprisingly profound lesson. I did not leave with an Apple Watch. (I almost could’ve sworn that I heard my Casio breathe a sigh of relief.)

Oren Oppenheim cannot use an Apple Watch anyway because he owns an Android smartphone. He is a junior at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist, but currently is drowning in emails from colleges. You can email him at [email protected] and see his photography at facebook.com/orenphotography.

By Oren Oppenheim