It is a thing more and more common. People casually chatting, operating their various electronic devices simultaneously. When was the last time that you felt you had the full attention of someone? It probably wasn’t when they were caressing their touchscreens with their fingertips. This is an essay on conversational quality and smart devices making us dumber. Dump your smartwatch.
As a technolgically affine person, I was naturally amazed by the possibility to wear a computer on my wrist! It was October in the year 2014 and Motorola was about to release their super-hyped smartwatch Moto 360. It was shown at Google I/O 2014 and reception was spectacular. The same momentum has built up for its successor.
And so, I found a Moto 360 special edition under the christmas tree. One of the most beautiful smartwatches ever. And from there on, amazement went downhill.
To activate their displays, most smartwatches (including the Apple Watch) rely on tilt sensors. This helps them save battery.
Well, but who flicks their wrist in an awkwardly strong motion to know the time? Just right - no one. Only die-hard Apple fans are portraying awkward movements to pay tribute to their timepiece. Every watchwearer just takes a short glance at their timepiece, and will never stare at their wrist hard.
Power and stability
“Excuse me, may I ask you for the time?”
“Give me a few minutes, my watch just crashed.”
Not a joke, this first-world-problem happened to me more than once. Sitting on my wrist, doing nothing all day, the small computer is so surprised at being needed that it instantly flips a bit. Since UIs for watches have never been developed, it is no wonder that there is lacking feedback. Oh, and of course one should never forget to recharge it in the evening, if one does not want to wear a very expensive bracelet the next afternoon.
Real world integration
In all the promotion, life with a smartwatch is supposed to be made easier in the real world. Contactless payment, calls, etc. All the lot that takes time off our hands. Yet, there are few apps for smartwatches that give you a hand in reallife. One example would be the Hole19 golf score tracker. The app is great, but the score counter for the watch made me feel clunkier than ever on the course.
Another example would be the Stocards app, an application for slimming your wallet by digitizing benefit/award cards. The app for the phone is again: great. Even the Android Wear implementation is straightforward but: No supermarket I have been to has had scanners able to read the tiny barcode off the screen. Bummer.
Our phone is abuzz with notifications from the happenings of almost any social network that we are part of. And all this buzz will make your wrist ring with delight. A message here, an email there, a calendar reminder, etc. Anything that your phone can tell you will now sit at your wrist. Awesome, you may think, and this is the exact reason for which I bought my smartwatch.
Imagine you have just received a message. You glance at your watch, be it right after the watch buzzed, or anytime after. Chances are that you will read it. Now you have the information at the top of your head, and what you have done previosly has already been interrupted by this context switch. Will you respond to the message?
On conversational quality
You will very likely respond, since you are thinking about it anyway. The phone is only a flick of the wrist away and there you are: Having completely abandoned what you were doing, mentally enslaved by your minds wish to wander to easy tasks. You are serving your watch. A watch that is not even serving you, it is not even collecting any useful health data. The world might not have caught up with wearable technology yet - until now it is simply not worth it.
It is no wonder that more and more dystopic versions of communications technolgy are produced by artists. Take a look at this very popular photo series by Antoine Geiger. You will probably see yourself in one of those pictures.
Even advertising has found this to be worthy a topic. It makes me feel guilty. Does it make you feel the same?
There are numerous studies out there that will prove that emotional bonding and conversational variety will strongly decrease with smartphones on the table.
Look it up now, this article will still be here when you come back.
Living without those devices has become impossible in our professional world. I will not suggest you to go and drop all your tech in a bin and light a campfire. I want to raise awareness for your human surroundings and the richness of exchange that you are missing because of coldly lit displays.
Now put away the device with which you read this and say hello to the person next to you, even if it is a stranger. Conversation is beautiful, most notably if it shall not serve a higher purpose.