Photo: Michael Shaheen Flickr

Apple Watch and Becoming “More” Human

How Apple Watch Turns Information Into a Sixth Sense

I’ve been reading Natural-Born Cyborgs (a great read), and one of the core premises is that we’re already in an era where our capabilities and thoughts are “technology mediated.” This particularly rings true for me when thinking of my experience with the Apple Watch.

Like Walt Mossberg, I own an Apple Watch and feel it doesn’t just do enough. Personally I don’t think this is simply a case of under developed technology, but just a point of view that the Smart Phone is the last killer app (more thoughts on this to come). In Natural Born Cyborgs, Andy Clark highlights how technology can become transparent to a person and become simply a means of exercising one’s “selfness.” Here is an example about a snooker player:

The expert snooker player feels the same way. She does not consciously intend such and such movement of the cue. Rather, she intends to put the last red in the center pocket and to spin back for the black. To repeat a now-familiar tune, it is when aspects of body or external tools become transparent in use so that our intentions “flow through” the tools to alter the world, that we feel as if we directly control the limbs, or tools, in question, that we begin to feel as if they are a part of us.

Today I had a similar experience with my Apple Watch. I received the familiar haptic rhythm on my wrist and instinctively darted my forearm to take a look at the new incoming information.

It’s muscle memory by now, like the action Gen Xers used to take to learn the time. But upon reflection I realized that I didn’t experience or interpret the haptic alert cognitively as: attention Mikal something is buzzing your wrist but instead I processed it as a subconscious lower level techno-physiological signal: new incoming information.

I didn’t experience or interpret the haptic alert cognitive as “attention Mikal something is buzzing your wrist” but instead I processed it as a subconscious lower level techno-physiological signal “new incoming information.”

When I’m in the zone, I naturally ignore these incoming signals as if they don’t exist. Similar to the way one might experience narrower peripheral vision while running. But waiting in line, as I was at the time of that alert — I without thinking — performed the physiological choregraphy to learn more about this new information (jotting out my left wrist).

It’s here where I think the watch form factor or its offspring has an opportunity for breakthrough: a sixth sense, an ability to sense incoming information, both literal and figuratively. Mossberg notes about the Apple Watch:

Sure, it does just enough for me that I don’t feel terrible about buying it, or wish to get rid of it. But since I started wearing one after it launched last April, it just hasn’t become an integral part of my life. Unlike my phone, if I left it at home one day, I wouldn’t drive back to get it.
And I’m not alone. I know lots of tech fans who either haven’t bought a smartwatch, or who just haven’t formed an attachment to the one they have.

But without my Apple Watch (and Microsoft Band that preceded it for a few months) I miss the feeling that I am on top of all pertinent information. With just my phone, I’m constantly checking the ringer to make sure it’s off or on, the screen to ensure I didn’t miss anything, or inbox, but with the Apple watch all my lower level cognitive functions that used to continuously monitor my digital devices for incoming signals is whole sale replaced by a physical sense of just knowing.

While our ability to interpret haptic signals is rather limited. Imagine the extension to be able to sense an LOL from your partner, a we-need-to-talk from a colleague, or a wrap it up from your co-Presenter. Such awareness elevates our ability to communicate between humans and our digital spaces far beyond the current verbal and textual mediums.

Here we would find ourselves a little more human.


Mikal is a Technical Product Manager and former Startup C.E.O. originally from Baltimore, MD. He currently calls Seattle, WA home.