The Social Contract: We happily agree to meet and talk to each other. Which also means: We will not be checking our phones, our watches or our Google Glasses. Leave all that crap in your car...

Rome. Pre-Smart Phone.

"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...