"Smart" Watches. Amazing tech but now responsible for some more erosion of social grace.

Paris on a rainy afternoon in the Fall.

It seems like every new invention and gadget that people like to carry with them, and play with frequently, makes social life and existence within a consumer culture meaner and more coarse. I hated the way the original, simple cellphones allowed people to take phone calls in every inappropriate place imaginable; from nice restaurants to movie theaters, from libraries to quiet parks. No place was immune from the thoughtless intrusion of a gush of loud, insane and highly personal conversations. What made it even worse was that one had to hear one side of the conversation only which added to the disconnection and discomfort. 

Until now my biggest gripe has been with "smart" phones which have invaded every corner of modern life; at least here in Austin. People walk down the sidewalks of downtown like entitled zombies clutching their phones in front of them like social divining rods. They blaze down sidewalks on scooters  seemingly unaware of the pedestrians in front of them, limp hands holding the phone toward their unobservant faces.  The prevalence of the bright shiny phone screens has limited my choice of movie theaters. If I want to see a movie in a theater I have to make sure it plays at the Alamo Drafthouse which expressly and aggressively prohibits illuminated screens, phone calls and texting during movies. If I go elsewhere my focus on a movie is destroyed by a constellation of bright points of light scattered among the selfish audience in front of me.

When I go out and walk with a camera I can peer into cars as they go by at various points in my walk. I see legions of people steering with their knees so they can actively text with their handheld phones and occasionally glance up to make sure they aren't about to impact with anything. They are the same people who sit at the front of the line at traffic lights and need constant horn prompts when the lights turn green. It takes a while, and often their car is the only one making it through the light before it changes...

But iWatches are more surreptitiously destructive (I single out Apple because their stuff actually works well but other brands are equally obnoxious). While smart phones are macro erosive by dint of being obvious and ubiquitous the smart watches serve to erode not the comfort of the group but on a more micro level the shared pleasure of one-on-one social interactions. A watch isn't too obviously distracting and intrusive to everyone in a coffee shop, it just serves to degrade the relationship between two people who, in the past gave each other their full attention in conversation. It's the person without the watch who is the screwee. 

Now, because of FOMA (fear of missing out) any wrist thumping pulse from the watch which notifies the wearer of: an incoming text, a phone call, an e-mail, a calendar reminder, a temperature change, etc. pulls the wearer out of the engagement and creates a series of micro-barriers, robbing his counterpart of the watch wearer's full attention. His commitment to the conversation. His attention. His shared humanity.

Smart watch users seem to become more addicted and obsessed with their watches than with any other piece of personal tech. That may be because it's readily available, the action of looking at the watch derives from the casual look at a traditional (mono-purpose) watch making it seem acceptable, and it offers a potent, distilled dose of the very essence of what makes smart phones addictive = the fiction that constant interruptions means one is not missing out, is still loved, is part of a group. Even though most aspects of both watch and phone are more or less automatic feeds set into motion by the user themself. 

If you were sitting in a coffee shop having a hot beverage with Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, or Picasso, would you interrupt your once in a lifetime moment with a legend to run a 30 second, one lead EKG on yourself? Would you really need to check in every few minutes to see what the sound pressure levels inside the café are? Would that reminder text that your personal butt wipes have now shipped from Dollar Shave really seem so important? A good time to check on your 401K?

People generally have the best of intentions (at least I like to think so) but the erosion of social contracts and the degradation of the niceties that make society worth living in are gradual and, as the lowest common denominator of human being plumbs just how intrusive their use of personal tech can be there is a concomitant acquiescence from other users who subconsciously are empowered by the lowering of the bar to feel no guilt about their own transgressions. 

The smart watch is just the latest way of making personal relationships less rewarding. Social engagements much less fun and business meetings much less effective. Bravo smart watches - helping to bring on the collapse of polite culture since 2012. 

Better rush home and make sure those butt wipes and razor blades aren't stolen out of your mailbox. You've been alerted! Your phone demands answers...


J Williams said...

Of every piece of technology I have ever bought, the iwatch is the most useful. I recently made a trip to an emergency room because I had a racing heartbeat while sitting perfectly still. I am absolutely certain if I previously had owned one of these devices that very expensive trip would have been avoided. In my case my thyroid was very hyperactive thus creating the condition. Looking back now I can see this condition was actually created over a year or more. Monitoring ones resting heartrate will detect something like this over time. Also, if I had the watch I could have given the ins companies nurse exact info on what was happening. When they just hear my heart is racing while I'm sitting still, the default response is "head to the emergency room".

There are also number of long term benefits one can get if you're determined; monitoring your activity, sleep etc. And of course your heartrate.

I'm sorry if I offend anyone with my iwatch, but this thing is staying on my wrist until the moment I die.

Just my $.02, from a grateful customer.

Bill said...
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Kenneth Voigt said...


Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Bill. That's a bit too strident and you are taking the post too personally. Everyone should be wise enough to know that I am (and still am) calling out all the people who horribly use technology to make the rest of us very, very miserable while in their company. Obviously I also hated pagers but I would never presume to limit pagers from doctors on call or expectant fathers who might need to rush to the emergency room in a moment.

That you have found uses for the watch that fit your needs and help you in your life is great. The blog post was not written for specific use cases in mind. Please be "bright" enough to understand that many people are unthinking (and uncaring) in their abuse of technology and that is what I am emphatically calling out. If you need the watch you need the watch. In the examples you gave I can't imagine a phone would not be as good or better a lifeline and a communication tools between you and family. As a diagnostic tool you can take a pulse rate with a Timex and two fingers. As an EKG a one lead, wrist monitor is nearly worthless. If you have a grave heart issue what you really need is a telemetric monitor that connects to your cardiologist's office.

I'm happy you can justify the Apple Watch (which will always be an iWatch in my mind) but don't for a minute think that your personal justification let's a whole host of bad users off the hook or that I should be constrained from commenting on what I think is an obvious, unsettling and unfunny erosion of more and more social norms that were created to make people comfortable with each other.

There are more than enough people ranting every day about the border situation, immigration, and climate change but most accept the real damage to social contracts through abuse of technology like lemmings or cattle heading to slaughter.

If you want to suggest that I am not "bright" because this bothers the fuck out of me and I want to write about it you just stepped over my line. If you find what I write boring stuff that's been hashed over then go and find something else to read. But just because you've found one of the few reasons to buy what can be an expensive and disruptive watch you don't need to make me complicit in your rationalization. No more so than excusing a theater full of idiots texting during a movie.

Finally, as to being one-sided, just what did you expect? That I'd stumble around trying to justify a concept that I feel is odious just to create some fictive balance? I leave that kind of crappy "journalism" to the news media as they try to rationalize a balanced stance with obvious crimes against the nation. You think Apple Watches are a great tool for social contentment? You go ahead and write a passionate rejoinder to my piece. But I'm sure as hell not going to do it...

Next time I pick a rant I'll find my own inspiration. Next time you comment try taking the aggression down a notch.

Kenneth Voigt said...

I meant "exactly" to Kirk, not Bill.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

J. Williams. I am amazed to hear that your Apple Watch could diagnose your thyroid issue. I read about the Apple Watch 5 but didn't see that level of diagnostic complexity listed as a feature.

If people like their watches and use them to tell time, monitor their heartbeats and alert 911 if they've fallen (yes, an actual feature) I'm in no way opposed to that. You did understand when you read what I wrote that I was specifically talking about abusing the social construct through active misuse of the device, right?

I wrote about people ignoring the people seated in front of them in order to play with gadgety features. I did not disparage someone sitting at home taking a reading of their heartbeat out of a genuine concern for their health. Please re-read if hazy on the concept.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Happy to see such torrents of emotional and heartfelt support for the Apple Watch!!! Works for me, I own stock.

J Williams said...


Your thyroid basically regulates every aspect of your body including your heartrate. If ones thyroid hormones creep up over a period of time you will see a corresponding increase in your resting heartrate, which under normal circumstances should be stable over long periods of time. It took about a month for the doctors to definitively say what was wrong, but during that time I could monitor the heart racing episodes which continued to occur and see that no immediate danger was present. I then watched over the next month as the medicine I was taking gradually brought my resting heartrate down by about 20 beats per minute.

It would have been handy to have the EKG function in my case of racing heartbeat, but in reality if I had the watch I'd have caught this thing a long time ago and not really needed it.

I agree much of modern tech is just wasting our time on this planet, but ones health is the most important thing we have and this device is genuinely useful in that department.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Agreed. Thank you for your thoughtful response.

The more medical information we have at our service the better informed we can be.

I was about to stop blogging for a while. My faith is restored.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Just a note to everyone. If I'm trying to be "funny" I'll post a warning to let you know. In this case, and in my response to Mr. Williams, I am absolutely sincere.

J Williams said...


Just to clarify your watch isn't going to diagnose a thyroid condition, but if you pay attention to the heartrate data constantly taken by the watch you can see trends, even over many months. This of course requires a bit of diligence on the part of the user. A jump or drop of 20 beats per minute in your resting heart rate is very obvious if you just take the time to look.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

That is good to know.

I use a wrist mounted blood pressure monitor several times a week. It also counts heart rate. It saves BP readings (up to ten) and it can also save the heart rate number.

I can see, when I am physically exhausted, my heart rate go up as well. I have a safe range for both blood pressure and heart rate in mind. If I exceed either parameter, or if I saw an unexplained rise in either that stuck around, I'd be heading to my doctor's office post haste.

I'm sure the watch makes this kind of monitoring easier. Again, I have absolutely nothing against this. I think it's a great use of tech. I also think the SPL metering is worthwhile; especially for young people who see a lot of live music. My point was that it's obnoxious to start reading text messages and stock quotes on your wrist when you have invited a friend for a social conversation and they are sitting in front of you.

That's what I wrote. I swear.

John Krumm said...

I turn off most notifications, but I agree with your slight exaggeration. However, a few months ago I was so sick I fainted and then woke up on the floor still too weak to move. I used my watch to call my physician wife and ask if I needed an ambulance. She told me no, wait a bit, and then slowly get up and drink more water, which worked.

J Williams said...

"I also think the SPL metering is worthwhile; especially for young people who see a lot of live music"

Didn't want to bore folks with my medical problems, but since you mentioned it, at the same time I developed ringing in my ears. Initially doctors thought it may be a byproduct of the thyroid condition and might go away. Apparently not so, as I now know I have fair amount of upper frequency hearing loss. Hopefully these watches can draw attention to this little discussed problem. I've only recently discovered how many people when they reach their 50s or so have these sort of problems. The unfortunate thing I'm discovering is there is really nothing medically that can be done about this. You have to take necessary precautions over your whole life to prevent this in the first place. The watch can be hugely helpful there.

Anonymous said...

G'day Kirk.

I have to agree with your post. Disclaimer: my Apple watch has basically taken the place of my iphone, but even then I find myself more and more leaving everything behind and just going for a walk or whatever technologically nude, or even more amazingly, wearing my old scratched Seiko (which incidentally tells the time just fine).

We have a rule when my kids and grandkids come around for a meal. "Ditch your smartphone" if you want to eat.

If all the smartphones (and lawyers) in the world were put end to end around the equator, it would be a wonderful thing.

Oh and thanks for your recent thoughts for the bushfires Down Under. We've had almost 800mm (32") of rain in the last two weeks and the fires are out. In fact a lot of the place is now under water...


Robert Roaldi said...

You can order personal butt wipes?

jiannazzone said...


I also concur with your point about the intrusiveness of technology. I see too many people, and try to resist myself, constantly checking their devices to see if some "important" notification has come through. A couple of years ago, I acquired a passed down Apple Watch from one of my children. After wearing it for a few weeks, I tired of charging another device every night and feeling a vibration on my wrist throughout the day. It sits in my drawer, looking for another recipient.

steve said...

I for one long for the time when people weren’t distracted by needless information :)


TMJ said...

As one, who for many years, was invisibly tied to the ward or A&E by different pagers, (we used to call them ‘bleeps’), I am more than happy not to be in constant touch via any electronic device. The branch of healthcare I currently work in does not need me to be ‘on-call’.

I heartedly agree with you, Kirk, about the erosion of many members of the populations’ ability to communicate, particularly amongst generation Z, which is worrying for the future. Constantly welded to their iPhones, smart watches, etc., getting a history out of them can be very demanding due to their having lost the ability to communicate in a logical and intelligent way, without checking their ‘smart’ devices at the same time.

Peter ZIegler said...

We like to think this is a modern, high-tech phenomenon. I peg the start of this trend to the Sony Discman. That's when I first noticed people on the streets completely tuned out of their environment. This has been building for a long time.

Eric said...

I’m going by what you wrote, that the device, be it smartphone or smart watch is to blame. I think that’s misplacing the responsibility. A person can wear a smart watch or carry a smartphone and not let it become socially intrusive. The problem is with people not the device. I was struck a few years ago when there was a sudden uproar that Apple and Google should “do something’” about how much time people spent looking at their smartphones. Same issue, it’s a people problem not a device problem (remarkably at that same time there was an outcry that Apple should make thicker iPhones with more battery life, presumably so they could spend even more time looking at their phones. It reminds me of the old joke about a Catskills Mountain hotel: the food is terrible and the portions so small). It seems so many people feel a need to be “on top of the very latest” this or that from friends, family or work which says to me that basically they are bored and their life without constant adrenaline hits is a bit meaningless. Modern life is a conundrum; our possibilities have never been so rich but for many our lives are increasingly mundane and we seek anything from holiday to binge watching tv to smart device checking to avoid being here/now.

MB.Kinsman said...

Excellent post and rebuttal to the commentary. Those that objected perhaps need to slowdown, reread the post and contemplate the intent before responding emotionally. It’s another symptom of the detrimental affects of smart products - more emotional less intellectual responses to everyday living.
Keep on posting whatever you want. Most of us enjoy it and visit here to read it. If we don’t agree with the content, we’ll do so with respect and/or just sit on our hands for awhile and say nothing, but still continue to enjoy the blog.

Ray said...
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Ray said...

I think I'm going to agree with your post, but I have to check a message first. Hang on.

OK, are you still there? cool.

What were you saying?

Wait a minute.

Yeah, I agree.

What do you mean I have to pay for lunch?

You're saying distracted people are a pain to be around, right?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Xactly. You read the blog correctly. Some did not. Tragic. Sad. A condemnation of public schooling.

Anonymous said...

You have found and crossed technology's red line. You've touched the nerd rail! Well done.

Scott said...

Totally agree with this post. It is rude and lazy to use products in a selfish manner.

"I single out Apple because their stuff actually works well"

Samsung smartwatches work great so they are just as subject to abuse. Perhaps these two companies market to different types of people.

granitix said...

My $30 clever watch (for my $80 android) counts steps and tells me the time. Oh, now and then it controls my music. That's all I plan to ask of it. Allowing it to interrupt with things the watch can hold for me will not be enabled.

I wouldn't own this but I bought it for my wife & it was unsuitable. Battery life and quick charge are nice.

Michael Matthews said...

Watches don't kill relationships, people do.

pixtorial said...

Oh wow, your post just resonates in so many ways. And while it would be easy to say that this is just an "old guy" rant, I know that there is a growing legion of younger folks who are also starting to realize this. For my own children, I have to on occasion force social situations. A friend who is a five minute bike ride away should be a friend you simply go talk to, not chat with for three hours on Discord.

The real danger is that it is easy to get sucked into this same behavior. I have to actively manage where my attention is. This will seem like a silly example, but I don't bring my phone into the restroom at home, instead I'll bring a book. I'm try to fill my limited time with real information, stories, or insights instead of mindless Insta surfing.

Jerry said...

So here I am trying to read your post while my girlfriend keeps trying to have a conversation with me! Kidding of course. Can't wait until I retire from my work life so the phone can stay on the kitchen counter like it did when I was a kid.

tnargs said...

Dare I to hope that, if one of the junkie-narcissists to whom you refer actually does get that once-in-a-lifetime moment with a Picasso or Einstein, that the legend's me-me device goes off and he diverts all attention to it, and the moment is ruined.

And that's a big karma LOL from me, dude!