by Richard Singleton
As our readers well know by now, I’m an inveterate tech junkie. It’s a hobby of mine that brings me immense pleasure. I love to follow tech blogs; I love to keep up with the latest and greatest gadgets; I love tech reviews; I love just about anything tech-related, and extra points if it has an Apple logo on it.
One of the most interesting things I do related to technology is to think about the convergence of tech and culture, especially as it relates to kids, families, relationships and the transformative impact that tech may have on relational dynamics. Often you may hear someone attack technology, disparaging tech for stripping away relational connections, sapping attention spans and blindly overreaching its influence into public and private spaces – like in the boardroom or the dinner table. I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment.
It’s probably not overreaching to say that families have been inundated with more personal tech in the past five years than they have been in the past five millennia. This certainly has its challenges, but it does not have to mean that the whole of humanity and society are somehow irreversibly adrift because we have gadgets that have, on occasion, stolen away eye contact at dinner and that have, at times, reduced us into monosyllabic grunting Neanderthals during business meetings.
And, just when you think it’s safe to go back into the technological waters, there might be another game-changer on the horizon. When Apple released the first iPhone on June 29, 2007, the history of technology and human interaction were literally changed in a moment. No one could have imagined how dramatically affected the culture of communication would be changed by something as simple and sublime as having an evolution of the mobile phone.
Apple and the Golden Horde of competitors trying to outflank them (Google and Samsung, chief among them) are working feverishly to make 2014 the “year of wearable tech.” At the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 in Las Vegas earlier this year, the air was thick with the wearable theme.
Just what is wearable tech, anyways? It’s more of a range of devices and a philosophy for future designs than it is just one device – unless, of course, there is a game changer, à la 2007. Samsung has its Galaxy Gear smart watch, as does Pebble. Fitbit produces the sexy, sleek Fitbit Force. And, most cutting-edge of all, Google has its beta test Google Glass project – which some find creepy and intrusive and others find revolutionarily important. The jury is still out.
While the competition elbows and jabs its way toward a clear winning design or designs, finding the proper balance of form and function, what is apparent is that we are in for a new round of players in the arena of technology. Some argue against that, but critical mass seems to be building in an inexorable way. Whether it’s this year or slightly longer, there will be a continued expansion of the presence, essence and influence of wearable technology.
Which begs the question: how will this affect families and what will families do to prepare for it? It wasn’t clear in ’07 that our kids would have their faces buried in Snapchat, Twitter and Vine and have their fingers drumming out thousands – if not tens of thousands – of text messages each month. After all, some of them were still in preschool! We don’t yet know what will pan out, but we do know that there are principles involved no matter what wearable gadget reigns supreme.
Safety. That has to be the key issue with adopting any new technology. We’ve often learned the hard way that children can be too transparent with their private information and that unctuous abusers have had a field day with unprepared, unassuming children and teens. Whatever new thing comes down the pike, we dare not avoid asking questions and applying insights that will help our children and families use appropriate technology in a safe and thoughtful way.
Dependency. As more and more technology is implemented into our families, there is always the risk of technology subverting the most revolutionary design of all – one’s own brain. I’ve become so reliant on my phone’s navigation app that I’m almost utterly lost without it. It truly has changed the way I plan – or don’t plan – as the case may be. The same may become true of wearable tech. If we rely too much on devices to dictate our plans and processes, we might find ourselves increasingly needy when without them. Do we really need another excuse not to exercise today? “Oops, my iWatch isn’t working, looks like I’ll sleep in and grab a few donuts for breakfast.”
Balance. Already, the wearable tech revolution has churned up funny comedic drawings lampooning the poor soul so festooned with tech that he can barely stumble out of his front door – a veritable Mr. Gadget, sans the ubiquitous trench coat. Humanity has often thrived on technology, but there’s something ingrained in the human spirit that also craves the simplicity of a campfire in the great outdoors, a view of the stars from an isolated mountain path and the adrenaline-pumping realization that one can rough it for a few hours without relying on a watch to remind him that he is still breathing, that his heart isn’t truly going to explode and that he’s burned his requisite 514 calories for the day. So often, life is about finding balance – a healthy mix of the new and a solid footing of the old. It’s an important part of our humanity.
Year after year, we’re faced with an array of cool new gadgets to pile into our briefcases, handbags and backpacks. This year we’ll likely be faced with another round of tech, this one vying for attention on our wrists, sleeves, waistbands and perhaps even our eyewear. When it’s all said and done, it’s up to you and me to decide if that makes our lives better or if it’s just a little too much to tote. As you explore what works for you and your family, we’ll be keeping an eye out for the goodies, game-changers and gotchas to see if any of them are worthy wearables!