Wearables on social life

We live in a world in which everyone and anything is connected. Where we, in the mid-90s, witnessed an urgent haste for the personal computer. A device in which people could work from home. An innovation in which people could bring the adventures of the world to their home screens. A technological revolution in which we saw the exponential growth of the World Wide Web. A mindset in which we experience the Wide World through screens. In the course of this present day, most of us carry this little device in our pockets. But are you not out-dated when you need to reach to your waist to absorb some kind of information. Why not just lift up your wrist. Smartwatches now bring society the full level of functionality in an extension of an arm. A new army of innovation is already at the front door:

  • A fitness band to keeping track of your daily activity.
  • Belty[1], a smart belt that loosens or tightens with your waistline.
  • Melomind[2], the ability to track brainwaves and control stress levels.
  • Happify[3], an innovative technology to empower individuals to lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

The Smartphone

But does this mean it will really benefit our social lives? If we deeply analyze the use of smartphone nowadays, we could get a glimpse of what wearable technology could bring us in the future. A research run by PLOS[4], University of Wien, shows adolescents make an average of 74 checks on their smartphones a day. In which we spend an average of 5 hours a day WhatsApping with family and friends; communicate with colleagues; managing our personal agenda’s; and spend a majority on social networking.

It’s safe to say the smartphone use has risen amongst peers and especially amongst youngsters. And for the one’s where most of their time is spend on social media, a thing that might happen, or is already happening, is that information overload can turn into data addiction. With this rising hype on wearables, I want to focus on what could happen in the future. If data addiction is a real thing, to what extent will wearable technology have an effect on social cohesion, or rather, on our social selves?

The quantified self-movement

Starting off with the phenomenon called ‘lifelogging’ or ‘quantified self’, the process of tracking personal data generated by our own behavioral activities. It tracks the personal activity data like exercising, sleeping, and eating. This quantified self-movement takes the feature of simply tracking and logging the raw data to try and draw correlations and ways to improve our lives from it. Wearables are being introduced to provide us with a means to get to know ourselves in greater detail. “Self-knowledge through numbers” according to Gary Wolf, founder of this quantified self-movement[5]. This movement says: “Our mission is to support new discoveries about ourselves and our communities that are grounded in accurate observation and enlivened by a spirit of friendship”. Accurate observations being the self-tracking tools, like the fitness band or ‘Belty’. And discoveries being the search of a better self.

Personal Dashboard

Now people will not only check their smartphones, but they will also check on themselves. Once obsessed with checking their social network, they’ll become addicted to their personal dashboard. This social side effect is possibly enforced by the overabundance of data. The fact that people can now track the information about their bodily achievements, makes people want to compulsively check their activity. It is argued that the hunger for data is a double-edged sword. While wearable technology is believed to increase the life expectancy by ten years, it is also conversely believed to tune people out of life. Creating constant fear of underperformance and a paranoia of self-examination. Some people nowadays might suffer from nomophobia; an anxiety for simply forgetting your phone. Early users of smartwatches have been found to develop a physical side effect. The ‘Phantom watch’ effect[6], users constantly check their bare wrist even when not wearing a wearable. Therefore, will lifelogging actually reduce or increase stress levels?

Self-delusion

A good example of a life logger is Chris Dancy[7]. He is known as the “most connected human on Earth”. Deceived in finding a job. He turned to lifelogging his data. Being a quantified self-guru, he knows how to find his inner self. According to Dancy, everyone has to go down the same path of enlightenment — he just happens to be ahead of the herd.

But according to Andre Spicer, data is not enlightenment. Spicer is the Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Cass Business School at University London. In his scientific article[8] he declared that data might sound nice, but we should not use data to fool ourselves. He claimed that this “self-knowledge through numbers” might be far more fatalistic than the philosophical examination proposed by Socrates[9]. The Socratic method, a way to seek truths by your own lights. A method in which it is needed to have other opinions and ideas in order to find the truth. When turning this philosophical examination into a self-examination people run the risk to becoming self-delusional. The Socratic method in combination with personal dashboards is the dangerous part. Socrates insisted that people start to critically think about themselves. Asking further questions to find the truth. People start to use their personal dashboard, all these raw data, as a starting point for their critical thinking. We’re simply becoming addicted into improving ourselves, or rather, our personal data. Instead of being connected with the world, we start to turn more inwards. Not gaining more insights about ourselves.

Spicer continues with drawing a historical parallel between this technological movement and the generation of spiritual-actualizers during the mid-60s. With a dislike of authority, these people rebelled against these cultural norms. Inventing the ‘hot-seat[10]’, they could learn how to get rid of paternal figures. By placing an imagined father figure on a chair, they could experience a sense of satisfaction while verbally abuse him for a while. The purpose of this hot-seat was to free yourself by taking ownership of your life. Today’s life loggers don’t put an imaginary father figure on the hot-seat, they put a mirror on the hot-seat. But they don’t feel a sense of relief for a couple of hours. Instead, it goes on every single moment of the day. With constant monitoring yourself using wearable technology.

Selfish

Furthermore, In a mindset of a lifelogger, sensors are used to generate data for activity. What we do with this data depends on the logger himself. Using Melomind it is now possible to turn this data into something we want. The Melomind uses EEG sensors to measure brainwaves. The app will then determine the brains needs and generate a real-time music experience based on it. In a video they’ve posted online they show a calendar on which you see the number of points you’ve achieved each day. With a title captioning “your best asset to master relaxation”. This virtual zen master might create a society in which we virtually develop skills. Adding not just data, but also skills to the personal dashboard. Tracking the brain waves it generates a mood in which we can train our mindsets. It trains you in controlling stress.

But taking control over one’s feelings and thoughts might be delusional. With trying to better ourselves, we become self-delusional, or even worse, we become more selfish. As a matter of fact, the Melomind just makes us run away from stress. Avoiding any conflicts that need to be solved through reason rather than choosing your own mindset. Having the belief of controlling your stress, feelings and thoughts, make people think they can move mountains, but in reality, they can only run towards the mountains.

Pure data

So to what extent does wearable technology affect our social selves. The quantified self-movement is really moving. With the rise of wearables to measure every single activity, we develop a personal dashboard. Being obsessed with checking the data, we might become addicted to improving this data. This affects in a sociality in which we have no real insights about ourselves. Whereas people might think they’ll develop a deeper understanding, we just become more self-delusional. The social dangers of self-delusion are that people become more selfish. It’s a society in which people base their wisdom through lifelogging the excess of data[11].

Thus returning to the question: Is data-addiction a real thing? It’s safe to say that data-addiction is already a big issue. Social network addiction has become a subject of much discussion and research[12]. But it’s real. People spend too much time using Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media, to the point that it interferes with other aspects of daily life. The real question to be answered is: Will data addiction become a bigger problem with the rise of wearable technology? Trying to answer this question just raises more questions on the social effects of users. Will we lose insights of ourselves? Will we think better of ourselves just by looking at our personal ‘numbers’? Regardless, wearable technology is here to stay and will play an important part in people’s social and business lives. Because it surely does bring benefits. If we really want to reach a deeper understanding, we need to analyze on how data is being used. People just tend to absorb this granular data and process it into fuel. But this data, in its unpurified form, must be treated carefully. Like in chemistry, we need to find its purest form and reach a better understanding of how these substances can react together and create something beautiful.


Sources

1.

Coulm, C. (n.d.). Belty. 7. Retrieved from http://www.wearbelty.com/

2.

Fiszman, J. (2016, April 26). Melomind : the relaxing headset. Retrieved from https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/865795124/melomind-the-ultimate-relaxation-headset/faqs

3.

B., Leidner, O., & Parsons, A. (2012). Happify. Retrieved from http://www.happify.com/

4.

Andrews, S., Ellis, D. A., Shaw, H., & Piwek, L. (2015). Beyond self-report: tools to compare estimated and real-world smartphone use. PloS one, 10(10), e0139004. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0139004

5.

Shull, P. B., Jirattigalachote, W., Hunt, M. A., Cutkosky, M. R., & Delp, S. L. (2014). Quantified self and human movement: a review on the clinical impact of wearable sensing and feedback for gait analysis and intervention. Gait & posture, 40(1), 11–19. Retrieved rom http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0966636214002872

6.

Cave, A. (2014, June 06). Smartwatch wearers, have you experienced the ‘phantom device’ effect? Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/10949941/Smartwatch-wearers-have-you-experienced-the-phantom-device-effect.html

7.

Murphy, S. (2014, March 14). Meet the ‘Most Connected Man’ in the World. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2014/03/13/most-connected-man-in-world-chris-dancy/#Piq7emfZdqqK

8.

Spicer, A., Prof. (2015, January 08). Is wearable tech bad for us? Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/01/is-wearable-tech-bad-for-us/

9.

Phillips, C. What is the Socratic Method? Excerpted from Socrates Café. Retrieved from

http://www.philosopher.org/Socratic_Method.html

10.

Spicer, A., Prof. (2015, January 08). Is wearable tech bad for us? Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/01/is-wearable-tech-bad-for-us/

11.

Lara, S., & Naval, C. (2014). Surfing on the Wearable Tech: challenges for social participation.

12.

Griths, M. D., Kuss, D. J., & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Social networking addiction: An overview of preliminary findings. Behavioral addictions: Criteria, evidence and treatment, 119–141.