[W]earables like the Apple watch actually serve a very different function — indeed, almost the opposite function — from that served by previous mobile devices. A smartphone is useful mainly because it lets you keep track of things; wearables will be useful mainly because they let things keep track of you.
–Paul Krugman on self-surveillance.
This is the thing we all got wrong about Big Brother and the surveillance state. Pretty much everyone since Jeremy Bentham has recognised the value of data when it comes to a government controlling the population. Almost no-one seem to’ve recognised the value of data to us when it comes to controlling ourselves.
(Which, yanno. It’s not like mindfulness hasn’t been an ascetic technique since like forever. But gods forbid technology make it easier for anyone!)
Krugman’s whole article is interesting because it goes into talking a little more of the potential (positive) social impacts of wearable technology. Essentially, that it has the potential to replicate experiences the ultra-rich now take for granted (i.e. personal servants), and extend them to the “merely” affluent. He uses the example of waiting in line, which the mega-rich never have to do (they have people to wait in line for them), and which the affluent would happily pay a moderate sum of money to not have to do. Waiting is something humans do poorly and technology does extremely well. Imagine if, instead of having to queue for something, your smartwatch knew, a) when you were scheduled to do a thing, b) where you currently were, and c) how long it would take you to get to where you needed to go. Instead of sitting in a waiting room or standing in a line, you could be wandering around doing whatever it is you do, until your watch buzzed to summons you to your destination. (And it could communicate your compliance to the device sitting on the other end.)
This is the wearables future, I think. Services like Uber already provide some of this experience; when you summon a car, you can see where it is and it can see where you are thanks to the GPSes in your respective phones. Compare and contrast waiting for a taxi. Or for those of you who’ve been into an Apple Store recently and bought headphones or cables via by scanning them into your phone; feels weird, doesn’t it? Weird, but kind of cool. If you’ve had that experience, did you think about it the next time you had to wait for (or worse, try and find) a clerk in a different shop? I know I have.1
If I had to make some claim chowder for Apple’s trajectory over the next decade, this is where I’m going to say they’re going with things like the Apple Watch and Apple Pay. Apple doesn’t want you to have a wallet or a handbag, because Apple dreams bigger than that.2 Apple wants you to have some kind of Star Trek-like personal device that combines your phone, credit cards, ID cards, money, GPS, music player, web browser, novel, phone, and messaging service all in one convenient hunk of glass. And it wants you to have this because it watched Star Trek as a kid, too, and thought that would be awesome. Also profitible. But mostly awesome.
This is what tech companies need in the 21st century. It’s not enough to “just” do tech; you have to do the social implications of tech, too. Not everyone out there is good at that. Apple is.
- David Jones I am fucking looking at you. [↩]
- Remember Steve Jobs first dreamed up the iPad in something like the late 80s. He just had to wait a few decades for the technology to catch up to where his “vision” for the product was. Go back and read some of his old interviews where he’s talking about “electronic books” and… yeah. This is why Apple makes billions. [↩]