Friday, November 15, 2019

when technology controls us

On his excellent Lost in Mobile site, Shaun posted Industrial Designer Critiques The Apple Watch and this video:

I cued it up to the section Shaun urged special attention, the designer kind of protesting about folks having to be told what to do to manage their health via a watch. On Lost in Mobile's related WhatsApp group, Bob said:
So I listened to the last 5 minutes. For those who didn't listen, and Shaun please correct me if I'm wrong, my main take away is that many of today's products tell you what to do and therefore absolve you of your responsibility to do things on your own. He likened it to being governed and controlled as in Orwell's 1984 combined with HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In a way he's correct, but I could argue the same thing about almost any technological advance. A car absolves you from having to get about by horse and buggy which in turn absolves you from having to walk a long distance. Are we better or worse off. As often is the case, some of both.
My response was:
Fun topic! I too only caught the last 5 minutes. First tangent: he bookends his main complaint with a smaller one of how he'd prefer a watch to just be a watch - none of this extra functionality with its implication of obsolescence as new functions show up. But that reminds me of that old comment about smartphones - that we had essentially reinvented the pocket watch! So the mere act of telling you what the time is is not as crucial as it was...
I remember in college (in the 90s) sort of consciously deciding NOT to wear a watch, in part because I wanted to avoid the regimentation IDGuy talks about.  Most classrooms had clocks, or I could ask someone, and just have a more human and organic sense of time (which is why I still think about making clock faces that put the time into fuzzy words not precise numbers)...
I think that my avoidance of watches mirrors his avoidance of smartwatches, that watches are kind of more proactive -- to use some jargon it's more of a "push" technology that proactively alerts or commands the user than a "polling" technology that has the user decide to check the device. And that issues of healthy moving and eating are better left to people making their own habits.
I'm not sure how many people take the step counting and the diet advice (is that what they do?) and "stand up now" THAT seriously? Like is it mostly aspirational for most people, like a usually short lived regimentation that hopefully modifies their internalized habits?
Also the whole thing reminds me a bit of anti-GPS arguments, that we're all more dependent on devices and less capable with maps. And it will not be good if kids grow up helpless without GPSes, just the way it's kind of sad many kids don't read time off of traditional clockface... but on the other hand, I was terrible at navigating w/ my car for the decade of driving before I got my early GPS... I didn't magically gain capabilities, I just puttered along, and was often stressed.
But like with teaching math to kids, the sweet spot is getting people to use technologies that augment rather than replace cognition - never skimp on the steps of teaching estimation, even as you still let them use calculator more often
Interesting stuff! Let me know if you want in on this gem of a WhatsApp group and I'll see what I can do :-D

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