April 22, 2013
How Will Wearable Technology Disrupt Us?
Wearable technology is going to change everything
Wearable technology is going to change everything. Yes, it will change when, where, and how we “connect.” But, even bigger than that, it will reshape the way we find happiness–no longer looking for it in self help books or friends’ advice. Instead, in our search for answers and fulfillment, we will dive into the data our bodies and actions create. This will be the ultimate disruptive technology. But this can only happen with the help of designers. “Disruptive technology” is one of those over-used phrases, teetering towards meaninglessness. It’s not that it’s a bad term; some of the most interesting phrases are used until they have been stripped of all depth and are nothing but a way to demonstrate being on-trend. (I’m looking at you “curated.”) Recently, though I heard a definition that resonated with me. Instead of thinking of disruptive technology as any new app that pops up, we might try and approach it as anything that fundamentally changes our core behaviors. On a small scale, wearable technology is already doing this. In five years’ time its integration into society will be ubiquitous. Despite Heidegger’s assurances that our own actions are technology, most of us understand technology as something separate from our bodies. It is something we make, control, hold, and are disconnected from. But, to feel fulfilled, the growing societal shift towards a culture of constant connectivity and data worshipping has made us increasingly reliant and emotionally dependent on technology. As we’ve entered a co-dependency with technology, we’ve grown more open to applying it internally and externally to our own bodies. Responding to this new market, a growing crop of wearable technologies have popped up, each with its own compelling promise on how they can modify our lives positively. There is the IntelligentM, a digital wristband that alerts medical employees if they haven’t washed their hands well enough. Though it’s currently only being used in the medical world, it’s easy to foresee how it could move like Purell out of the medical community to the general population. Then there is Muse, a headband that connects to your brain so that you can play thought-controlled games. Similarly, the new Prius Bike, PXP which comes with a helmet that uses your brain to let you shift gears just by thinking about it. There are all sorts of fitness related wearable technologies dedicated to tracking your health and wellbeing, including Nike’s FuelBand, FitBit, and Jawbone Up.
A screen shot from Jawbone Up’s website urging consumers to “Live Better” through their product
It’s impossible to talk about wearable technology without bringing up Google Glass. Though the glasses have already been worn down the runway during fashion week, the specs were announced only recently, giving us a clearer idea of their capabilities. We now know that the glasses will have 12 GB of usable memory synced with Google cloud storage and 16GB Flash memory total. Supposedly, the battery is made for an entire day of use, though video and recording and Google Hangouts will drain it quicker. Through the glasses you’ll be able to take photos, access apps, connect to the web among other data tracking services that will allow you to better understand your daily data.
Google Glass worn on the Diane Von Furstenberg runway
Through these glasses, we will truly see the future…. But only if Google can convince consumers that they are stylish and comfortable enough to wear. For this to happen the developers of wearable technology will need to team up with designers in order to fulfill our science fiction fueled fantasies. As Anina Net, the CEO of the 360Fashion Network recently said, ”The world will change when we can wear our Gucci Google Glasses.” Once design and science connect in a symbiotic way and regard each other as equals, wearable technology will become a true disruptive technology. Of course, this all brings us back to my initial question: How will wearable technology disrupt us? And the answer is in every way. Data will become the new astrology. We will use it to divine our personal futures and deconstruct our present. It will alter the “human ideal” and change the meaning of what we think of as “success.” Perfection will be quantified and comparable. We will search less in our own interior brains and memories for the answers but instead we’ll try to understand ourselves in the context of others. We will know averages for happiness, weight, sleep, laughter, excitement, how clean our hands are, how strong our brain is–to be told exactly how we compare to those averages, rank listed among our peers. Perhaps, the oddest part of this disruption is that it will be us, the consumers, who “opt in” to these data driven rankings by actively purchasing wearable technology. We will do so both because designers have made it cool and trendy—can’t leave home without those Gucci Google Glasses!–and because we, perhaps rightly so, will see the data and overall connectivity as empowering.
Maude Standish is the co-founder and managing director of Tarot, a Millennial trend research company. To hear more of her insights you can follow her on Twitter @MaudeChild.