Computer Love: Jason’s Data-2000

When he’s not geeking out over car design or adding to his eclectic watch collection, Jason stays busy running the company he co-founded fifteen years ago. What started off as a web-design firm called 37signals, is now Basecamp – renamed after their popular project management software. I’ve been fortunate to hang out with Jason on a few occasions… The story below is a glimpse of the Jason I’ve come to know. When you’re done reading, if you’re intrigued to know more, be sure to check out his Ted Talk and read his New York Times Bestseller, REWORK.

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Ask Jason about how he got to where he is today and he’ll likely mention the Mac he got in 1986. He told me, “It’s the reason I have a career.” It was on this Mac that he started fiddling with programming and computer design, skills he would refine and parlay into the business he’s in today.

But before that Mac came along, there was a smaller, but no less powerful piece of technology in Jason’s life: The Seiko Data-2000. A wristwatch that gave Jason his first introduction to the potential of digital tools, and to a lesser extent, sparked a love affair with watches.

But back in the mid ‘80s, when Jason was ten years old, he didn’t recognize the wheels of his career being set in motion or where his love of all things electronics would ultimately lead. He was way more interested in how the Data-2000 could revolutionize the cheat sheet. You see, what was so special about the Data-2000 was its capability of storing information, which beat writing answers on the palm of his hand. This watch was ahead of its time, or better yet, was “the first smartwatch,” as Jason calls it. There was no way his teacher would suspect that a watch could save notes.

The idea of secret information, accessible at the touch of a button, on his wrist no less, was the  “coolest thing [he’d] ever seen in [his] life.” The Data-2000 was the kind of gadgetry he expected James Bond to wear. In reality, Bond wore and became synonymous with a Rolex Submariner. Ironically, a watch Jason didn’t recognize at the time, but would go on to collect in the future.

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This Seiko wasn’t just called the Data-2000 as a nod to the future. The “2000” referred to 2K or 2 kilobytes of memory – the equivalent of 2,000 characters or about 1 double-spaced page.  But, as it often goes with technology, the next innovation is always right around the corner. Before long, Jason’s Seiko took a back seat to a newer, shinier toy: His first Mac…

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Full disclosure: The Data-2000 pictured here is not the actual one Jason used in the eighties. He’s not sure what happened to it… As Jason became more successful in his career and got deeper into watch collecting, he felt the need to find it – if nothing more than for nostalgia’s sake. He thought it’d be cool to have a reminder of how it all started. But instead of rummaging through his parent’s attic – which might’ve been a fruitless effort – he went the 21st century route, and searched for one on Ebay. In true watch geek fashion, he held out for a Data-2000 with a full set: That means one with the original box and manual – the whole shebang. After clicking the Buy it Now price, he not only got to relive his youth, but also reunited with an object that originally piqued his curiosity.

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This Data-2000 doesn’t make it into Jason’s watch rotation, but that doesn’t mean he appreciates it less than his daily wearers. In fact, he stores it close by his watch roll. On a strictly horological level, his Seiko is deserving of this nearness because Jason’s fondness for watches today, especially chronographs, probably has something to do with him using its stopwatch function back in the day… For that reason, plus the fact that with its keyboard it’s a good example of form follows function – something not lost on Jason, who has an eye for design – means you won’t convince him that it’s merely a quirky novelty of the era.

Even more so than being a part of his collection, it’s a part of his life: A part of Jason truly believes he wouldn’t be into what he is today, especially his line of work, without this funky piece of technology.

To see some of Jason’s current watch lineup and design faves, check out his Instagram @jason.fried. To find out what’s on his mind, follow him on Twitter @jasonfried.

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