The story begins with the Google Top Contributors’ Summit I recently attended. Google traditionally gives us some nice things to keep us happy while not paying us to do their front-line customer support for them, and this year it was a smart watch.
Of course, the thing about a smart watch is that it doesn’t work without a smart phone, and a smart phone is something I’ve never felt the need for. But if there’s one thing a week in America has taught me, it’s that everyone now simply assumes you have one, so “download this app” or “scan that QR code” are becoming common answers to many questions. Time, then, to cave in to all those voices saying, “I never knew I needed one until I got one,” and get one.
Well, the technology is ingenious. With my Android phone paired with my Android Wear watch, I can get text messages, weather alerts and reminders of upcoming appointments delivered straight to my wrist. Using voice recognition, I can even send my wife a quick text without having to take my phone out of my pocket. I get to feel like Dick Tracy.
|The new bane of my life.|
And yet, I’m not entirely convinced I really need all of this. About the most objectively useful thing I’ve found is that when I’m out in “the field” (as it were) organizing appointments, I can do that directly on my phone.
Other things could well be useful, although I haven’t had a chance to use them yet. For example, I might be in a strange town and in need of a pharmacy for some reason (perhaps I have woken up in my hotel room covered in itchy insect bites). I can ask my watch where the nearest pharmacy is, and it will give me a list along with their addresses, telephone numbers and opening times.
There are also cases where I feel tricks have been missed. Here’s an idea: on sites of historical interest, why not have the information plaque affixed to it incorporate a QR code? I could scan that code into my phone and get a proper, in-depth article fleshing out the necessarily terse information given on the plaque.
The trouble seems to be a lot of people not really knowing how best to implement this kind of technology. For example, take timetables in German train stations. They now incorporate a QR code you can scan to get, on your phone, a real-time departure board for that station. But the QR code is impossibly tiny and quite blurry, and nearly always behind glass, making it devilishly hard to scan... and all you need do is turn around, and there is a massive departure board hanging on the wall.
Then you get the overuse and over-reliance on technology that leaves people missing out on a lot. It’s nice to have, in the shape of Google Maps, a GPS navigation system, but the result is that more and more of my acquaintences can’t function without it. In particular, when visiting a place, they are more likely to scurry from tourist trap to tourist trap by the most direct route possible. There are now books explaining the art of wandering aimlessly, with, somewhat ironically, step-by-step guides (“if you see a man wearing glasses, take the next turning on the left”).
But worst of all for me is the fact that my phone, and therefore my watch, is constantly pestering me with totally irrelevant stuff. Stuff that can wait until I get home, stuff that distracts me from the here and now and, for no good reason, wants me to focus on the virtual world. But now I know why you so often see groups of people huddled together, each bent over their phones.
What happens is that every time you install an app, it assumes you want to be notified of everything. If you don’t go into each app’s settings and disable notifications, you get constant demands for your attention. Somebody liked your Facebook post. Somebody retweeted you. Somebody sent you an e-mail.
Of course, now that I have a watch paired with my phone, it gets all these push notifications sent to it. Plus, it has its own notifications because it includes a feature designed to help me keep fit. Just the other day, my wife asked me what time it was, and then sarcastically added, “...or doesn’t your watch tell the time?” Chuckling, I raised my arm to look at my watch, and... well, I had to swipe several notifications off its smug face before I could read the time. I had walked five kilometres already that day. The weather was cloudy but dry. An app I had recently installed on my phone had been checked by my virus scanner.
I think that this technology is potentially of great benefit, and the possibilities are endless. It’s just that you have spend so much time trying to stop it from pestering you all the time, it feels more like a curse.