Should I Wear a Wearable Device? // Digital Minimalism Series
A friend of mine is sick and I think it’s because of his smartwatch. A few months ago, this healthy looking 25 year old man noticed that his heart rate was elevated to about 100 beats per minute while seated. He decided to check his heart rate more often. The more he checked it, the more he noticed that it was elevated to an unhealthy level. He went to his doctor. The doctor said there was no apparent cause for my friend’s elevated heart rate. This led my friend to research the causes of elevated heart rate and take more biometric data. He checks his data against trends for people with obscure diseases. He’s trying to relax more and quit drinking. Still, his heart rate is up more than ever.
My friend has one clear problem: his smartwatch. Without it, he wouldn’t know his heart rate and that would allow him to relax. Odds are, his heart rate would return to normal.
Forced relaxation is a paradox. As a U.S. Navy survival instructor, some of my fellow instructors would holler at a struggling student, “RELAX!” Being called out made the student more nervous and the downward spiral began. My friend checking his smartwatch has the same issue. Every time he refreshes his heart rate data, the watch is shouting at him, “RELAX!”
We all know wanting something too much can make it harder to achieve. Dr. Viktor Frankl called this “hyperintention” in his incredible book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Hyperintention can be used to your advantage. For example, Dr. Frankl had a patient who sweat through all of his shirts when he got nervous. How could the patient use hyperintention? Dr. Frankl told the man that the next time he got nervous, he should concentrate on sweating as much as possible. What was the result? The man could not force himself to sweat and the problem went away.
Like hyperintention, wearable technologies can be used to help or impair us. Below are some reasons to use wearable tech and some reasons to avoid it.
Reasons You Should
Unique Benefit. Last week, I watched a dance instructor use her smartwatch to make a class much more productive. She had the watch synchronized with her phone and the phone ran the stereo system in a large studio. Every time the class paused, she saved herself a walk to the stereo by tapping a button on her watch that transmitted a signal to her phone that paused the music. If the class needed to take it from the top, she tapped the rewind button. Ready to move on? She tapped fast forward. Perhaps you make high budget adventure sport films for an outdoor clothing company? Your smartwatch could help you to control multiple cameras from a distance. Wearable tech that has immediate function as a remote control is invaluable to some professional niches.
Elite Performance. You are an elite cyclist. Your sponsors have spent tens of thousands of dollars on your bike, power meters, and computer. Now, you see an opportunity to make a significant improvement to your training by integrating wearable technology into the nervous system of your data-driven training and racing plan. Go for it!
Reasons You Should Not
Being Hacked. Every digital technology you use for free or cheap is not the real product. YOU ARE THE PRODUCT! You use Facebook for free. Your information is used to sell your attention to advertisers. You take an inexpensive genetic test. Your information is built into a database that will be sold for a fortune. With a constant stream of wearable data, you transition from being a product to being a slave. For example, an app can feed you content and measure how you interact with it today in the form of clicks and swipes. But if you are wearing a device that monitors your body, the app can also measure how you react in your heart rate, blood pressure, and more. With this much information and feedback, platforms understand you better than you understand yourself. You will be hacked, just like any vulnerable system. For more on this, see Yuval Noah Harari’s excellent interview on Impact Theory with Tom Bilyeu.
Being Distracted. You walk by a playground in 1999, parents are looking at their children. You walk by a playground in 2019, parents are looking at their phones. You sit in an airport lounge, bad news flashes by on CNN and you find yourself staring at the screen. We are easily drawn to novel stimuli. Adding another screen, even a stylish screen on your wrist, creates another billboard to suck up your attention.
For more on making decisions about technology use, check out Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.