The balance wheel is the heart of the watch. With the help of the escapement, it converts stored power into a precise and regular tick. It transmits this impulse to the gear train, which moves the hands in time. The balance wheel assembly creates the heartbeat that makes the watch useful. It regulates and restrains, permitting the gears to turn and the hands to move only when necessary to serve the purpose of the watch. The balance wheel changes a mechanical process into a description of time. The rest of the watch is an extension of the wheel.
Because the balance wheel is responsible for the truth of time, any mistake it makes is propogated throughout the machine. As such, every balance wheel requires individual care and attention. Subtle variations in the shape and structure of the hair spring influence the duration of each wheel's swing. Each one is unique, and must be uniquely adjusted to tell true time. A well-made and regulated wheel will deviate only a few seconds over the course of a year. But over time, all wheels quicken or quiet and must be readjusted.
Every system we make needs a balance wheel. Every system requires a mechanism of control built from the goals of the system and the people it serves. In the same way that a balance wheel communicates the purpose of the watch to the watch, this mechanism must contain within itself the telos of the system as a whole. It must be regularly adjusted with care and precision to guide that system to its goal. Without that heart of purpose the most elegant machine becomes nothing more than a process.
We are Paley's watchmaker-gods now. We are setting up social processes and technological systems, building these distributed technologies, and tipping them into eternal clockwork motion. We will rarely get a chance to right our mistakes once they've left our hands, and we may not always be around to tend our creations. When someone finds our work lying on the ground in the forest, its gears spinning and its hands turning, what will they conclude about us?