The other day, I ran into a friend at Norris University Center who, somewhat self-consciously, admitted that he had just bought a new Apple Watch. To most, the device seems to embody the spirit of a generation that spends less and less time communicating face-to-face and can’t disconnect from the Internet.
As my friend lifted up his sleeve to reveal the slick aluminum smart device, he said the reason he bought the Apple Watch was actually to encourage himself to spend less time engulfed by tech. He’s found having a device to occasionally check notifications with a quick glance, he avoids spending huge chunks of time scrolling through Facebook and Twitter on his phone as he’s walking down Sheridan Road.
This view strongly contradicts the popular narrative that wearables are a sign of some dark dystopian future. Instead, this class of products hopes to tear out the novelty factor of always-connected mobile devices and instead integrate tech directly into our real-life interactions. Even when tech plays a major role in how we operate, it isn’t intrusive until we notice it. Truly intuitive, integrated tech will find its way into every aspect of our lives as society and technology progress, but if it is done right it won’t inhibit our communication skills, only complement them.
The Apple Watch isn’t really for typing messages, making calls or otherwise creating anything. It’s a device of rapid absorption, one that lets you know what’s happening in the moment and frees you from having to actively seek out what’s happening. A quick glance at the Apple Watch not only tells you the time, but also shows you your most recent texts, the day’s news headlines and notifications from all of your other mobile apps. Rather than spending our time walking down the street and ignoring everyone we pass as we stare down into our phones, tech companies are hoping to further develop tech that fades into the backgrounds of our lives while simultaneously increasing our efficiency.
Products like the Bluetooth headsets of the early 2000s promised interconnectedness, but their visual abrasiveness and nerdiness didn’t allow them to secure their natural place in popular culture. Google Glass learned this lesson the hard way and was met with a ton of backlash and ridicule, despite exciting so many people in the tech industry. Tech giants like Apple, Samsung and Google have placed such an initial emphasis on watches now because they are seen as a safer, more familiar option for consumers.
The latest slew of advertisements for the Apple Watch seems to focus heavily on what they see as the inevitable future where tech is unobtrusive and seamless. In the ads, users’ emotional lives flourish and recede as they communicate with their loved ones, with technology acting only as a medium for their most genuine feelings. It’s a pretty bold proclamation for the future of wearables that’s either goosebump-inducing or eye-roll-inducing, depending on your views of the future of technology.
Technology is engrossing sometimes, and as much as I hate it when people decry how millennials have forgotten how to communicate in real life, it’s important to keep our usage in check. But technological progression is a one-way stream, and it’s fascinating to see how the advent of more and more seamless consumer technologies might seemingly reduce our dependence on them. The Apple Watch is a first step forward toward deeper tech-integration into our lives, but also backward from our ever-increasing dependence on our smartphones.