OPINION13 November 2014

Wearable technology and the age of awareness


So, here comes Christmas again. However, this is not just any Christmas, this is already being heralded as the ‘wear tech’ Christmas. In the UK alone, it is predicted that we will spend more than £100 million on devices including smart watches, fitness trackers, action cameras and the much talked about Google Glass over the festive period.

It is certainly a new and fashionable category, and one that has now caught the imagination of the public as awareness rises and price drops. It is also a great solution to the eternal Christmas conundrum of ‘what do you get the person who has everything?’

But wear tech is going to be more than the next bread maker or over-priced games console, it will have a profound effect on us as individuals and our wider society. In particular, it is going to usher in a new age of enlightenment and awareness.

For some time now technology has been on a journey from being tethered and housebound (like a vicious dog with a penchant for postmen), through its mobilisation and emancipation to a time where it is now being slowly assimilated to the body. This year we will choose to wear it – but perhaps in the not-too-distant future we will be asking surgeons to implant it. All of this will have a real effect on what we know about ourselves, who we think we are, and how we behave. 

Apart from making access to all that exists in the digital realm seamless and ever faster, wear tech also creates an unprecedented detailed record of our lives in the form of life log data and in creating a quantified self. As devices passively constantly track and record our location, activity, interactions, physiological and emotional state, we are entering a new era of awareness of ourselves and others. We will be able to look in detail at life as it is and consider the bits we might like to change to create a better future – whatever that might be. In effect, we may also be about to enter an age of intervention that chimes with the rise of behavioural economics and nudge theory.

What this intervention might look like depends on who is driving it. For an individual, this might be the stark reality of how sedentary FitBit says you are – which is rather at odds with the more active version of you that you were used to living with – and make crucial changes in your daily routine. For a brand, it might involve being able to review the minutiae of the lives of a group of people and identify unmet needs and opportunities that can drive the innovation process.

So, wear tech is going to be about a lot more than just being able video call your loved ones by speaking into your wrist, or ordering a new exercise bike by winking at your glasses. It is also going to mean that yet more of life is passively captured, logged and digitised for use at some later point in time. For brands and researchers it opens up the potential to rewind, replay and explore people’s lives in what is effectively retrograde ethnography. It’s a new dimension, a new opportunity and one that has enormous potential.  As dear old Noddy Holder would put it, ‘So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s wearing tech’ – or something like that.