I’ve noticed that more and more people seem to be getting the new watches from Apple, or others. They strike me as a giant step backward in terms of our personal interactions and our ability to remain present, focused and interested in what’s happening, or what needs our attention right now. The move to Dick Tracy-ism seems ironic as well since more and more we’re reading about study after study identifying the ways in which constant interruption (aka “multi-tasking”) is bad for us. And, let’s face it, it’s not really a watch, it’s a miniature smart phone attached to your wrist and nearly, at least from what I’ve observed first hand, impossible for the wearer to ignore. I’m not even sure if it displays the time.
I’m not anti-technology. Like mostly everyone, I want to stay up on what’s happening and be responsive to people messaging me in one way or another – or calling me, which is becoming less frequent. I struggle sometimes with my desire to pay attention to the person I’m talking to, the person giving a speech or lecture, or the person helping me at the checkout competing with my “urgency” to take a quick phone peek to see if I got a text, or if LinkedIn or the Wall Street Journal pushed me a notification I don’t need, but I asked them to do anyway. I recognize the coolness of a watch that can essentially take the place of my smart phone (that I still feel I have to have with me in my pocket.) It’s very Jetson-like, and for someone like me who grew up in the Jetson era, it’s like seeing the future come true.
Despite the coolness, though, I’m seeing very little increased productivity or civilization improvement possibilities from these watches. Our sales VP began wearing one about a year ago and I noticed he was immediately imprisoned by its sound and light, like all those flying bugs to a streetlight. My feelings about the watch craze really came to roost when I was at lunch recently with a mid-century aged, former competitor of mine, who told me he’d just picked one up because it was such a deal. Having not seen one another for years, we had just started getting up to speed when a woman’s voice boomed from the watch demanding to know whether the pets had been given their meds. As far as I could tell, it was operating on something like walkie-talkie mode; that is, there was no choice as to “take” the call or not, it just came. “I’m in a meeting,” he said to the woman, who I think was his wife. “I just need a yes or no” she shot back. “No” he replied, sheepishly. While we weren’t interrupted like that again, and I’d say we accomplished a few things during the meal, his attention was re-directed to the watch every time it lit up. I don’t think he meant to signal to me that whatever was on his watch was more important than me, but that’s how I took it nonetheless. At least he bought lunch!
I’m not sure where this watch thing will go, but I hope we lose interest in it soon. I’m trying to adopt a less-is-more strategy for myself, particularly as it relates to mobile connectivity, and especially when I’m interacting with other humans. It just feels mentally healthier to me. To that end, I’ve been very conscious about checking my phone less. One reason is that without my reading glasses, I can’t see the damn thing anyway – which is another reason why I can’t see going to something smaller, like the watch, ever making sense for me. I still catch myself leaving it on the table in front of me from time to time, even though I’ve sworn to keep it away in meetings because I think it sends a certain “whatever’s happening with me is more important than what we’re doing here” vibe. When I do, I put it away in my pocket (if you see my phone out in a meeting with you, please call me on it). When I want to take it, I can usually resist.
The idea of a watch phone for Dick Tracy, or a shoe phone for Maxwell Smart, makes sense in a time when their options were restricted to landlines at the office and pay phones on the street (they would have no doubt benefited if it had been real then). But in a time when you have to search long and hard for a pay phone, and landlines are quickly becoming extinct (at least in homes), when there is already so much family, business and technology-driven competition for our time, attention and synapsis, and when we have a monster computer (which is also a watch and phone) in our pocket at all times, is a watch we don’t need to tell time something whose time has really come?
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