Does anyone really know what time it is? If you believe the folks at CIO-100 honoree The Swatch Group, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re in New Delhi, Paris or Timbuktu?it’s always Internet time. This Swatch-invented time measurement without geographical borders or time zones is measured in 1,000 “beats” per day, with each beat lasting one minute, 26.4 seconds. Beat 000 falls at conventional midnight in Biel, Switzerland, where Swatch’s headquarters is located and the town in which Nicholas Negroponte, the director of MIT’s Media Lab, helped the watchmaker inaugurate the system in October 1998. Although Swatch could not provide statistics on how popular Internet time has become, the company says the importance of the new measurement is growing steadily as more people get online around the world. To capitalize on the new time measurement, Swatch launched a line of watches that allows people to keep track of beats as well as good old fashioned hours and minutes.
These days, however, as pink slips pile up at failing dotcoms, many would like to forget Internet time altogether. And a concept like time is hard to change, especially since the system of time zones has been in place since the 1880s. Still, Swatch believes its Internet time will outlive the dotcom blues and take its place right beside Greenwich Mean Time and other international standards. “Distance and time zones don’t exist on the Internet,” says Beatrice Howald, a spokesperson for the watchmaker. “If you are chatting with someone on the Net on the other side of the world, you can make an appointment for 500 beats, and there will be no confusion. The importance of Internet time is growing along with the Internet community.”