By: Jack M.
They’re quickly becoming as commonplace as smartphones and tablets – wearables. We strap them to our wrists and arms, wrap them around our heads and stick them to our chests. We’re looking through them, sleeping with them, driving with them, walking with them and exercising with them. They’re sewn into our clothes, embedded into our glasses and stuck on bare skin.
Most of us would no longer leave home without our smart phone than we would without putting on our shoes, but more and more we now also have to decide between a smart watch, a smart wrist band, a smart helmet or smart glasses. There’s a smart shoe, and smart jewellery. There’s even a smart bra. We’re slowly but surely surrendering our day-to-day thinking to machines and electronics, and we’re making our everyday basic decisions on what these technologies are feeding us. And for some of us, we may be turning into obedient and paranoid robots.
The Montreal-based company, OMsignal, will even sell you a smart bra.
From the moment we wake up, there’s a gadget and an app that’ll tell you what to eat, what not to eat, when to eat, when to exercise, how to exercise and when to stop exercising. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Did I just say that there’s a thingamajig waiting for you from the moment you wake up? There’s another thingamajig that’ll actually wake you up in the first place. There’s a ton of contraptions from companies like Jawbone and SleepRate that will monitor your sleeping patterns and wake you up at a supposed ideal moment.
So you’ve just been awakened from your computer-monitored slumber, and your sleeping patterns have been transmitted to some faceless data broker somewhere out there in the cloud so it can sell the information to a mattress company who will in turn interrupt your Facebook time with its ads. And now it’s maybe off to the bathroom to brush your teeth. But wait…why bother using that five-dollar medium-bristle toothbrush that has served us all too well for hundreds of years; you can now connect your brushing habits to your smartphone. For a couple of hundred dollars, Kolibree will sell you a 21st century toothbrush that will sync with your iPhone or Android and let you know how you’re doing, which is a good thing, because the act of brushing one’s teeth is so mind-numbingly complex that we could never figure it out all by our incompetent selves (do you detect just a little sarcasm?). And if you don’t want to spend the better part of a day’s pay on the Kolibree, then Beam will sell you something very similar, but for a whole lot less money. At any rate, in addition to having your Facebook time interrupted by companies trying to convince you to buy their sleepy-time mattresses, you’ll also be forced to suffer the intrusion of toothpaste manufacturers telling you how white your teeth can be.
And now maybe it’s off to the kitchen to wolf down some yogurt, toast and lukewarm coffee. But not to worry, wearable technology has you covered. There’s a product called AccuBite that’s manufactured by Alabama-based BitWearLabs, and it will actually monitor your chewing patterns. With this nifty piece of wearable technology, you have AccuBite’s monitor strapped around your neck – or under your collar, if you want to be a little more discreet – and through the product’s built-in software algorithm, it will detect when you swallow food and will estimate the calories taken in (how it knows the difference between an apple and a donut is a bit of a mystery). The collar – which BitWearLabs affectionately refers to as “stylish yet inconspicuous” – is connected via Bluetooth to your smartphone, where all sorts of information is stored and reported to some more mysterious and unreachable corporations out there in cyberspace. If you like wearables, check out Jewellery making workshops and make your own.
Now it’s off to the office or classroom. Or maybe you’re just going shopping or taking the dog for a walk. But whether you’re driving, cycling, walking, skate-boarding or taking public transit, deciding what piece of technology to attach to what part of your body is enough to cause a spike in your cortisol levels. In addition to the dozens of smart watches and activity trackers that companies like Sony, Samsung and Apple can sell you, you can slip on a pair of Bluetooth-enabled, smartphone-connected, fully interactive smart shoes from Under Armour or Digitsole; and with its smart laces, the Digitsole smart shoe will even save you the cerebrally-challenged task of actually lacing up your own sneakers. And by the way, if you are in fact out walking your dog, the U.S.-based Voyce or WonderWoof (yes, that’s really the name of the company) will sell you a monitor that you can wrap around Fido’s neck.
But the must-have wearable for the up-to-date aficionado has got to be the new line of clothes that aren’t just designed to keep you warm or make you look cool, and the $295 PoloTech shirt from Ralph Loren, coupled, of course, with the accompanying PoloTech app, scores high on the wearable cool meter. So, when you’re in the gym or out for a jog, you can have your PoloTech shirt talk to your Fitbit Surge, and for backup your Epson PULSENSE PS-500 Heart Rate Monitor with Activity Tracking for iOS can act as a referee in the case of an argument.
A recent poll by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests that more than 20 percent of Americans now own and use wearable devices on a regular basis, and that trend is going in only one direction – upwards. And, not surprisingly, millennials are the largest demographic of users. On a more serious note, however, are we really better off with all this new technology? Does it empower us and are we more in control? Or are we allowing ourselves to be subtly manipulated, and does the technology encourage obsessive compulsive behaviour and even a bit of unnecessary paranoia? At a very minimum, it would be difficult to argue that our collective behaviour isn’t being influenced and augmented by the ever presence of an easily-accessible feedback loop. “The truth is that these apps and devices are untested and unscientific, and they will open the door of uncertainty,” wrote Dr. Des Spence in the British Medical Journal. “Make no mistake: diagnostic uncertainty ignites extreme anxiety in people. We must reflect on what we might lose here, rather than what we might gain.” And because of the constant in-your-face reminder of calories burned and calories eaten, the Chicago-based psychiatrist, Dr. Kimberly Dennis, has suggested that wearable technology and the accompanying apps have actually exacerbated the incidence of eating disorders such as bulimia and orthorexia.
And then there’s the whole discussion of security and privacy – or, to be more exact, perhaps the lack of security and privacy. My previously admittedly somewhat glib remarks about having our Facebook time being interrupted by mattress companies and toothpaste manufacturers does have a more sinister side. How many of us have actually read Google’s or Facebook’s “Terms of Service” before we signed up for Gmail or Instagram? Or how many of us ever pay any attention before we click “agree” to any of the myriad apps and downloads that we seem to use with reckless abandon? Exactly…very few of us. And why? Because we’re lazy, and the manufacturers of wearable technology know this. In fact, they rely on it.
A recent poll by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests that more than 20 percent of Americans now own and use wearable devices on a regular basis, and that trend is going in only one direction – upwards.
A report issued by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is enough to send a shudder up even the most carefree spine. The report pointed out that some of the previously-mentioned data brokers have as much as 3,000 pieces of information on each and every U.S. citizen. And for many of these data brokers, users of wearable technology are a gold mine of facts and figures that will in turn be sold to the mattress companies, toothpaste manufacturers, restaurant chains and car dealerships. Concerns over security and privacy have even been echoed by a number of tech insiders. When interviewed at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas, Jeff Jenkins, co-founder of APX Labs, said of wearable technology that “you have to make sure you’re thinking security first and you’re thinking about the information that’s being generated by them.” “…if people really realized what they are signing up for, they might be horrified at what they’re allowing the companies to do with the data,” suggested wearables developer Damien Mehers. And this comment by Sonny Vu, the president of the Misfit popular line of wearables, should act as a reminder to all users of wearables: “If people really want to steal data, it’s actually not that hard to do.”
If we actually bothered to read the “Terms of Service”, I suspect that many of us would reconsider hooking our bodies up to wearables in the first place. But even if you do read the terms and still decide to go ahead using the products of companies like Fitbit or Basis, there have been many studies which strongly question not just the accuracy of the products, but also the consistency between different brands. Wearable technology can be fun and engaging, and when used judiciously it might be beneficial, informative and even supportive of good lifestyle habits. But it’s also a technology that can be intrusive and addictive to the point where we can become willingly blind to its downside, and the master-slave relationship gets turned upside down. As suggested earlier, the use and popularity of wearables are increasing rapidly. They’re probably here to stay, so if you are a user – or if you’re thinking of maybe getting your first activity-tracking gadget – don’t let it turn you into an obedient and paranoid robot, and always be wary of tech companies bearing gifts. While the wearables are tracking us, who’s tracking the wearables?