Returning to flow in writing can be a challenge after a pause away from finger to keyboard. The unexpected result of a minuscule creature’s bite forced pause and reflection on my dissertation as I recovered from the symptoms of Lyme disease. Whatever the cause, I welcomed the gift of reflection and perspective breaking my myopic trance of data and theoretical analysis. Amidst the constant flow of Summer’s visitors, I was able to try out my thesis and analysis on a wide variety of audiences and settings. This is an attempt at explaining my evolution of thought and practice, to return from the obtuse academic speak to the clarity of language understandable beyond the realm of scholars.
I explored various angles to express the connection with wearables as social technologies. Despite this connection being obvious to me, in my admittedly myopic state, was not so for others. Wearables allow for an intimate and multi-sensory connection to individuals. They provide both incoming (ie. sensors that track heart rate and motion) and outgoing signals (ie. updates, beeps or vibration alerts). This connection creates a greater understanding of how we engage with the systems in which we exist, as well as how to best manage the relationship for sustainability of both individual and the system. For example, stress triggers, sleep patterns and idleness are known physiological challenges that impact psychological behavior. Wearables provide a access to data that potentially enable users to modify negative patterns of behavior.
The buzz of my research on wearable outcomes lead curious visitors to me. I listened and observed the reaction to my Apple Watch (the one device I wore) and the conversations it brought about. With fascination, I observed my own behavior as to how I engaged with the device and what it meant to me. I watched and listened as others shared anecdotes of their experiences in correlation with their wearables. Between the design feedback, health changes and lifestyle impacts I was impressed with how many, how and who was being impacted by wearables. It was another moment of discovery of the data beyond the study data being far more interesting and worthy of exploration. That said, these conversations were not part of my study and hardly academic in nature. They took place on the porch over wine and sunsets. Nonetheless, I became excited again with the possibilities for where it all will lead.
The momentum of excitement over the potential for improved quality of life and health as social technologies mature is taking form. It is in its infancy, yes, but nonetheless the wave can be felt. It is only a matter of time, patience and inevitable innovation before the technology will be integrated into our systems seamlessly. The acceptance of the benefits to global and individual health and wellbeing will eventually outweigh the fear of ingestables and embedded devices, their data and even the systems that utilize the data. Remember, it was not that long ago that we wondered why we would want a smart phone (user penetration nearly at 80% in US, up from 9.6% in 2011).
The physical devices themselves are not necessarily making the change. The potential change results from the ability to improve wellness through greater accuracy and communication of data using intimate sensors, signals and apps. Individual wellness improves the system’s ability to be productive. The challenge of becoming one with the tech ecosystem is understanding the human factor of systems. Social technologies provide a window into how systems interact with one another, as well as a channel for that engagement. Finding the optimal balance will benefit everyone. We have a ways to go, but I am hopeful.
I happy to see that I am not alone in my thinking. The latest issues of Harvard Business Review focus on Rethinking HR and Design Thinking. Outside Magazine’s interview with Jay Blahnik on the Apple Watch provided a rare view into Apple’s integrative approach to wearable and app development aimed at improved quality of life and productivity. I look forward to fully emerging from writing the final pages of my dissertation to contribute to the discussion. Until then, this is a brief exercise to get my fingers moving on the keyboard. The exercise of allowing myself to fully “be” while recovering and enjoying the company of family and friends has provided me the perspective needed to produce the final pieces.
Allowing room for pause and perspective has not only provided clarity in the findings of my research. It is an integral part of the process for the system to find balance that makes room for the seamless integration in the future. In presence, being mindful of ourselves and device usage so the benefits outweigh the risks is key. Placing the Watch in “do not disturb” or even to removing it completely, breathing the fresh air and enjoy the company of an old friend can be a blessed gift of perspective and productivity. So now back to writing the final chapter of my dissertation and designing the role of CBO (Chief Being/Balance Officer).