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Save the Humans! Wearable Tech Gives a New Definition to Integration
Posted on July 1st 2013
Picture this: a convulsing teenager spastically rolling on the floor next to her slaughtered iPhone 5 (duh) with tears violently spewing from her eyes. I’m sure you’re thinking, this is so over-exaggerated, “that’s TOTALLY NOT ME,” yah, yah, yaaahhh. Well, I had a similar heartbreaking experience last week, except not quite – I’m twenty. So THERE.
Let me take you back: I was innocently charging my precious iPhone at the kitchen island when my four-year-old sister came running in for a hug. A couple of flying limbs and squeals-of-joyful-laughter-turned-world-ending-screams later, my family circled around the latest innocent victim of my butterfingers. There lay my iPhone with its screen flashing and turning into some light display that reminded me of The Matrix.
Except, this was way less awesome and Keanu Reeves wasn’t there.
As the gravity of the situation settled in, I felt my heartbeat quicken, my knees turn to Jell-O and my voice fall silent, unable to formulate sounds let alone words. I summoned my yogi breath to bring perspective to the situation, but even my best efforts at Ujjayi breathing were sputters at best. I instantly felt lost in the world, a tragic victim of a severed limb, a cracked foundation – both emotionally and physically. What was I going to do without instant access to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Snapchat… OH MY GOSH. I FEEL SO ALONE.
As soon as this thought flashed through my mind, I stopped, took a step back, and finally caught my breath. What the hell is wrong with me? I thought. How did I become that person - that person that has such an intimate, personal relationship with her phone?
Because that’s just it, isn’t it? I am intimate with my iPhone. On it is the story of my life – all of my Facebook posts with my favorite BuzzFeed articles, my Instagram posts of my sissy, my tweets about my love of hot sauce, my #hashtag war texts with my best friend – you get the idea. My mobile phone is where I turn when something awesome, fun, memorable, rad happens. But not only is it where I share those little life moments, but it is also where I go for dinner recommendations, news and directions. I navigate and catalogue my way through life via my smartphone. I am, essentially, dependent on this tool to the point that I will cry when I have to plan how to get through a couple of days without it (oh how I wish this was an exaggeration).
Terrifying, isn’t it? Or is this, this instantaneous access and connection, just what technology has not only brought us but also conditioned us to expect – so much so that life actually becomes harder without it.
After my, shall we say, “incident” last week, I started Google-ing (on my laptop, of course) this idea that kept nagging me: how intimate humans’ relationships are with their technology. In doing so, I stumbled upon the growing phenomenon of “wearable technology.” Of course I’ve heard of Google Glass, but there is so much that’s being developed - technologies that will make any current shock at my relationship with technology look like a fool’s game.
Case in point: in a post for The Guardian, Kate Bevan writes that Intel’s team of futurologists and anthropologists “have a vision of a world where the technology is not an adjunct (as the mobile phone or the tablet is now) but embedded in our lives, generating and mining data in a way that's functional and useful to us.”
While the reality of wearable devices such as smart watches and sensors for your clothing is here, this act of “embedding” technology into our lives in its most physical sense – inside our bodies – is no longer merely the stuff of movies. Technology is poised to no longer be an adjunct (or an “app,” if you will) to our daily lives, a tool that we can merely pick up and put down when we so desire; it is becoming a part of us, simultaneously artificial and organic.
“Computers are dissolving in three directions--into the cloud, into the environment, and into our bodies--but as they do so they are reducing or losing altogether what we would traditionally call an “interface.
Technology is becoming invisible and giving a new definition to full-integration.
Sean Madden executive managing director of Portland-based design firm Ziba Design, had a great article in Gigaom about the path we’re headed down (definitely worth a read). In the video at the bottom of the article, a part of the Ziba’s Panel Series, he describes “wearables” as a kind of “enhanced subconscious.” Woah. Let that sink for a second.
I think of my subconscious (oh the irony) as a place that is fluid, unable to be contained, something I only have primitive knowledge of in my everyday life. I think about my technology – can I even say “my” technology – reaching that personal level with me, and it’s rather uncomfortable. Sean gets it right when he says “This is social engineering in its most literal sense, made possible by technology, with all of the promise and paranoia that phrase implies."
Promise and paranoia. We are on the brink of our own Sci-Fi film; no longer an imaginative story, but our very own digital reality. It makes one wonder if there really is such a thing as the “physical” anymore. When you look into what the future holds for wearable technology, those lines between the physical and digital seem archaic.
While the promise of wearable technology is huge in such fields as medicine, there is a small, stubborn part of me that fears for the autonomy of the individual as society begins to adopt and integrate wearable technology into its core. Returning to Sean Madden’s article, he poses the revolutionary potential of technology, specifically wearable technology, to change human behavior – the most stubborn of creatures. Like with any technology, wearables collect massive amounts of data, and this data, so intimate to the user, can influence how they live their lives. Madden muses “We are able to encourage or discourage behaviors once thought unchangeable simply by offering immediate, actionable feedback.”
What great potential, then, to change poor habits, such as smoking and bad driving – right? One can imagine the improvements in overall health and wellness produced by improved habits. However, like others have said before, technology, especially as it continues to advance, is our biggest supporter, yet our biggest enemy. It is not too far off to question the capability of this technology if it falls into the wrong hands – a real case of good vs. evil.
While I’m not one to stand in the way of technological advancement, I do hope we continue to have periods of reflection on what this path to fully-integration of technology will mean for us humans – the little guys.