The “talking clock” ceased a century after its inception

‘I was surprised it still exists’: ‘Talking Clock’, the world’s first automated system of its kind to give France legal time via a phone call, will be discontinued on July 1, due to not enough users. Era … much to the chagrin of the most nostalgic.

“+ In episode four, it would be… such a time! + When I was young, my mother kept telling me to use the talking watch, as if that was all she had to do,” laughs AFP Claire Salpetriere, 51, remembers laughing. English teacher in Magnanville.

“I was surprised it was still there,” says Antonio Garcia, 51. “It was something we knew when we were kids, when we didn’t have cell phones yet. It came in very handy when we had to take the train or plane.” Clinic Director in Moulins-en-Eveline. “I remember the sign + beep + beep +.”

The “speaking clock” was born in 1933 and was invented by Ernest Escalangon, astronomer and director of the Paris Observatory.

Accessible across the country via 3699, this century-old service was provided by Orange, the heiress to the current telecom operator. In 1991, a dedicated infrastructure was created, in partnership with the observatory, to ensure the publication of legal time in France with a temporal resolution of about 10 milliseconds.

– ‘Like a movie camera’ –

“It was really something for the kids, something for a teenager, just what we needed when we had a power outage and we had to put everything back in time. I am sad and nostalgic when I learned it was shut down; it’s like a movie camera versus a digital camera,” testifies Charlotte Vanbein, 43 General, responsible for media relations.

“Children today are taking advantage of all the technologies and don’t know everything we know. The good things are lost,” she laments.

The closure of this historic service is the result of the “end of life” of the equipment necessary for its operation, and above all the “regular and significant decrease” in the number of calls to 3,699, billed at €1.50 plus the call price for its last hours of existence.

“We received several million calls a year in 1991. There was a benefit that was very strong at the time, but little by little we saw an erosion of ‘no longer arriving’ a few tens of thousands of calls in 2021,” explains Catherine Britton, director of marketing at Orange , to AFP.

Smartphones, computers, tablets, connected things… With the digitization of devices and the multiplication of sources that can save time, “the need for the Speaking Clock+ service has been reduced over time,” -she adds.

The fourth generation model, the latest version of the “Talking Clock” sourced from the Paris Observatory’s “Coordinated Universal Time”, which was created from a set of atomic clocks from the SYRTE Laboratory, in the shelter in a safe and permanent-air-conditioned room.

“It does something for me,” said Michel Abegral, CNRS research engineer at LNE-SYRTE, who has been responsible for monitoring the famous mechanism at the Paris Observatory for several years.

“It’s still a service that’s been running for nearly 90 years, and it’s part of the national heritage. It bothers me that it stops when I take care of it,” he adds with a laugh. Time: The general public can always find the official time … on the website of the Paris Observatory.

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