| At the Corner of Technology and Culture

Lift Off for Wearables?

On my CBC show Spark this week, we’re doing a piece on wearable computing, what with all the buzz about Google Glass, Apple’s rumoured smart watch, and the success of personal trackers like the FitBit. I talked to the most excellent Kate Hartman about what it might take for wearables to take off in a mainstream way.

As personal tracking takes off, I wonder how much of it is going to be done with purpose-built, single function devices, compared to simply using apps on our phones. It’s the ‘universal remote‘ question for this decade. On one hand, I think people have got used to the convenience of having everything they need on the device they always naturally have with them. As I asked Kate, are people really going to want to remember to load up with their numerous wearables as well as having to remember house keys and a wallet? I sometimes forget my phone as it is.

So far, I think the Nike Fuel Band is a good example of a wearable that succeeds as jewelry (not to mention succeeding as talking point, since the people I’ve seen wearing them tend to really like to talk about it!). At least some of the excitement about the Pebble smart watch is that it’s actually a really good looking watch.

Still, I can’t help but think ‘implantables’ is the next horizon. The self-tracking movement has seen a very quick move from tracking for serious athletes and people with medical conditions, to tracking as a sort of everyday hobby. Could implantable monitors and nano-devices be far behind? I had a conversation with a woman who works at Chapters recently. She told me that on more than one occasion, when she’s asked younger customers for their loyalty cards, she’s been met with a sort of Homerian “isn’t-there-anything-faster-than-a-microwave” reaction. In an era where things are virtual, producing an actual card seems like having to carry a tree branch around with you all the time. More than that, she told me, these customers have said ‘can’t you just put a chip in me?’ They were joking(?), but I think it speaks to how close we are to the domestication of our cyborg selves.

On the Google Glass tip, my colleague, Dan, pointed me to this excellent post.

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There are 3 Comments to "Lift Off for Wearables?"

  • bbogart says:

    Hey Nora!

    I look forward to the next show, I’m actually keeping up with the podcasts these days!

    Being a G+ er the whole google glass thing has been promoted vigorously. In general I’m highly critical of the whole thing. There are two major reasons: (1) Any distraction, sensory or cognitive, is really bad for people our interacting with a physical (and lethal) world. They say they are designing around it, but any “push” notification is a distraction. If there are no push notifications, it begs why it needs to be so ubiquitous. (2) It is meant to be stuck to you all the time, meaning its “opt-out” and not “opt-in”. A phone is opt-in because you need to change your behaviour (take it out of your pocket) to use it. Glass is opt-out, because you its obviously meant to stay on your face all the time, and choosing to ignore it would be pretty much impossible without taking it off.

    I think these issues could be solved by limiting the use for specific tasks, in which case these issues largely disapear, because they can be task-oriented. I guess you could argue that it will be task specific, implying that we are always doing some task, walking to work, taking transit, on a date… Spark has already talked about the importance of offline idle time on cognition.

    I’m not sure how good the eReader sales are doing now that general tablets are more the norm, but I hope its a sign that “general purpose computing” is not dying, and that we expect more flexibility from our devices. I think general purpose devices are good for the consumer, but a hardware shell for one application is good for the suppliers of such devices.

    The whole thing around ubiquity makes me wonder about a shifting culture where we are all to easy to integrate all aspects of our lives into closed corporate media “clouds”. The last show on issues with closed pacemakers/defib implants was really telling along these lines.

    There is a lot of money to be made in tracking us. While I can see how radically tracking yourself as protest can be interesting, I’ve personally taken the other route, avoiding tracking by providing as little machine readable information as possible (where I have the choice). IE, very long posts on social networking but no personal data such as where I live, birthday, etc.

    We seem all to eager to grab the next thing without even realizing the consequences of our choices.

    I’m sharing that Glass crit from Dan on G+ right now!!!

  • Nora says:

    Thanks for the fascinating comments. I know what you mean. They seem to say that you need to look into the little viewfinder dohickie in the corner to receive information, but that seems like a recipe for distracted ‘interaction hits’. I think about the way our eyes naturally go to the TV in a bar even if we don’t ‘want’ to. We’re all familiar with how annoying it can be trying to navigate around a pedestrian with walking and using a phone. Wouldn’t this be all the more distracting? I agree with you that it really depends on how much it feels like a ‘push’ experience, vs a seamless ability to move from digitally mediated to not.

    Based on the latest demo video though, I dread the thought of people sharing tons of boring first person ‘shaky cam’ videos!

    In other news, though, I keep meaning to be more involved in G+ because I hear that there are lots of good conversations, especially about tech topics.

  • […] Bond likes to discuss with Nora Young on The Sniffer. Nora herself has been discussing wearables on her blog as well as on her radio show. Sure, part of this concept is quite futuristic. But a sensor mesh […]

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