Your Kids Can't Tell Time | Bruce Turkel

Your kids can’t tell time. Did you know that? Really, they can’t tell time. Don’t believe me? Test them some time. Wait until you’re in a room with an analog clock and a teenager or a twenty-something. Tell them they can’t look at their phone and then ask them the time. Point to the analog clock dial if you have to. You’ll find that they can probably figure it out by counting out where the little and big hands are, but they can’t just glance at the clock and know the time, like you can.

Your kids can’t read or write cursive handwriting either. A few years ago I left a note for my kids and they completely ignored it. When I asked them why it turned out that they couldn’t read it. Seems they never learned script in school. My cursive was Greek to them even though it was written in English.

And it’s not going to change anytime soon. Did you know that 45 states are considering incorporating a national educational curriculum that doesn’t include teaching cursive handwriting at all? Indiana, Illinois, and Hawaii are leaving it optional for their school districts to decide. Utah is still debating the issue. Only California, Georgia, and Massachusetts have legislated mandatory cursive writing instruction.

Your Kids Can't Tell TimeYou know what else your kids can’t do? They can’t sew.

Their idea of darning socks would be tossing ripped hose in the trash and saying “darn!” Except they probably don’t know what the word “darn” means.

Your kids can’t talk on the phone either. Give a kid a phone without buttons to text on and they hardly know what to do with it.

None of these kids and twenty-somethings I’m talking about are stupid. Far from it. In fact, they are the most informed and technologically sophisticated generation in history.

What this cohort lacks is knowledge of, and comfort with, analog activities. Writing, reading, time telling, sewing, and talking are all analog. And because they’ve all been replaced by digital technology, they are dying practices.

It’s not like this hasn’t happened before, by the way. How many older people do you know who still shoe horses? How many still know how to can their own fruits and vegetables? How many can knit? How many can crochet? These, too, are activities that were once commonplace but have been superseded by the relentless march of technology.

Whether or not the loss of these skills is ultimately negative is a bigger conversation than we have time to discuss here. But it is worth considering the unintended consequences of the cost of technology, especially if you’re in the business of selling goods or services to groups who are soon going to be comprised of these new consumers.

In a recent Smithsonian article, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne writes about these consequences. “Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould and biologist Richard Lewontin wrote a paper in 1979 claiming that some of our skills and abilities might be like spandrels — the architectural negative spaces above the curve of the arches of buildings — details that weren’t originally designed as autonomous entities, but that came into being as a result of other, more practical elements around them.”

So let’s talk about marketing and branding. How do you intend to sell products to these Spandrels, these people who think differently than you and I? Not printing your headlines in a script typeface is an obvious answer but much more remedial than I’m thinking.

What if you were a watch manufacturer? How are you going to sell timepieces to people who can’t tell time or who are perfectly happy checking the time on the smartphone that never leaves their hands? How about if you were a pen maker? How are you going to sell a pen to someone who doesn’t know how to write?

These unintended consequences are outcome agnostic — they create both assets and liabilities. The trick is to try and spot them early and then look for the opportunities they provide. Whether it’s writing games for Facebook users, building charging stations for electric vehicle drivers or becoming a privacy and security consultant for Internet users, the spandrels that technological advances will continue to create are the future.

Even if they can’t tell what time it is.


  1. May 25, 2019


    This is one of your best.

    Not because you are sharing solutions but are suggesting thoughts.

    You are the best!

    By the way, my Ranch brand and now my company brand is C-Anchor. I haven’t figured out how to use it because most do not know what it means (like cursive writing is to the younger generation). It has a deeper meaning than one might think. Only nautically savvy folks like sailors, fishermen, sea captains know what a C-Anchor (Sea Anchor) is. Do you? (Hint: It is not the kind of anchor you use to hold your ship in place in the harbor.)


    • Bruce Turkel
      May 29, 2019

      I don’t know what a C-Anchor is and I have an anchor on my boat!

  2. May 24, 2019

    Your kids can’t tell time is not accurate. Your kids can’t read an analog clock would be accurate (I don’t know if this is true for everyone or not), but definitely they can tell time, when read on a digital watch.

  3. May 24, 2019

    Bruce, great post, as always. This one is particularly interesting to me.

    When I was a “baby copywriter” in an ad agency in NYC in the mid-80s, I had the opportunity to work with a much more senior art director, a true Mad Man, one who had learned his craft in the 60s, the “golden age” of advertising. I remember having conversations with him, where he expressed that the then current trends in advertising were pathetic, that nothing showed any real creativity, and that it was much better in the old days.

    He was out of a job in less than a year. And I vowed never to allow myself to become irrelevant, simply because the word changed.

    When rap music became mainstream enough for me to be aware of it, about 99.9% of my contemporaries said it wasn’t music. I have to admit, it wasn’t my favorite genre. But I made a point of understanding its power and the importance it had to its audience.

    When you and I were in high school, we had to learn to use slide rules. We were not ALLOWED to use calculators. The value of those mandates still escapes me. Today, you can’t buy a slide rule. And you don’t have to buy a calculator because there’s one on every device you own. And I couldn’t do division on a slide rule today, even if I could get my hands on one.

    “It’s not like this hasn’t happened before” is clearly an understatement. The world changes, technology advances, “necessary” skills are replaced with others. Bad? Good? Who knows? But I know one thing: it IS.

    I think, as you imply, the biggest issue we Boomers face is that the pace of change has made the gap, possibly greater than ever before. Skills you and I deeply believe are just part of life and “adulting,” no longer are.

    I suspect that once we, and maybe our GenX neighbors, are gone, this will be less of an issue. Because the Milennials and subsequenet generations will have ALWAYS lived in an era of non-stop, disruptive change.

    Interesting stuff to ponder, for sure. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to pontificate!


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