Ideas that unite the world

As far as world-uniting ideas go, the Swatch Time remains my favorite. It’s audacious, but with a practical utility value that could potentially appeal to the entire world.

Back in 1998, the Swiss watch company Swatch proposed a new way to approach time! Instead of hours and minutes, the mean solar day is divided into 1000 equal parts called “.beats”. Each .beat lasts 1 minute and 26.4 seconds (86.4 seconds in total). Times are notated as a 3-digit number out of 1000 after midnight. So, 19:19 (or 7:19PM) is .617.

There are no time zones in Swatch Internet Time; instead, the new time scale of Biel Meantime (BMT) is used, based on Swatch’s headquarters in Biel, Switzerland! It was literally, ‘Our new world time starts from our HQ’, a bizarre equivalent to Amitabh Bachchan’s famous Kaalia dialog, “Hum Jahaan Khade Hote Hain Line Wahin Shuru Hota Hai” (the line starts from where I stand).

Swatch Time was a revolutionary way to unite the entire world with a single time system.

It was way ahead of its time, but because it was pitched to service Swatch’s new line of watches (called .beat), despite a lot of push, it failed to gain traction. Imagine the possibilities – you could be in Bengaluru and tell someone in the US a single .823 as the time you both need to catch up/chat! Very convenient, without the need to convert time or bother about timezones or daylight savings!

Swatch Time is still available here, live: Swatch Internet Time Clock

And that it was put forward by a watch company (Swatch still makes .beat watches!) seems apt, but even that wasn’t enough to make it work and be adopted as a new, world-uniting standard, despite its practical application.

But I loved the audacity of this thought.

I came across another, similar world-uniting creative idea.

It’s called what3words.

Like Swatch’s starting point of redefining a solar day into 1000 equal parts, what3words redefines the whole world into 57 trillion equal squares, each measuring 3m by 3m (10ft by 10ft) and each having a unique, randomly assigned three-word address! Another audacious idea, just like the Swatch Time!

This is like latitude and longitude, but that seems like random numbers that you cannot easily remember or recite when in need. Plus, like world time, you need calculators to convert and find. The 3-word-system makes it really easy to identify and recite a specific location anywhere in the world!

And it works across 35+ languages! There is an app that can help you find your own 3-word-location and I can foresee so many use-cases for this brilliant idea. For example, it seems Mongolia has adopted what3words for its postal service, and the Lonely Planet guide for Mongolia gives three-word addresses for its points of interest!

There is tremendous use-case possibility for rescue services and delivery services, in this idea. Or, look at it from a simple, everyday use-case: you and your friends plan to meet at a beach. And share the specific location of where the first one reaches (and pitches a beach chair) to the rest of the folks!

Or, take the case of Mercedes-Benz, that has recently adopted what3words for its voice navigation! It’s a brilliant use of this idea.

The idea is very similar to Swatch Time, in principle. It takes something that is used everywhere but is cumbersome enough (though we put up with that, historically) and simplifies it to almost the level of a child’s intelligence.

I hope at least this idea gains traction, but given how Google Maps has become so ubiquitous, and how comfortable we’re increasingly becoming with ‘sharing our location’ at the flick of a digital button, chances are that this may go the Swatch Time way too.

Though, what3words, on top of Google Maps could be phenomenally useful to precisely point to a location. Let’s see where this one heads!