How Wearables Became Unbearable
Why we must resist the onslaught of “wearable tech.”
Thanks to science, computer chips are now so tiny and versatile, they can function virtually anywhere. So like an unruly toddler with a brand-new pack of stickers, tech innovators have decided to slap them all over their bodies—and ours. The resulting “wearables” are the hottest thing in Silicon Valley since overearnest mission statements and zippered hoodies.
They’re also useless gimmicks that often sound like discarded ideas from a Spy Hard brainstorming session. There are GPS-connected shoes that actually relay directions by vibrating your feet, leg sensors that sync up to a drumming app when you slap your knee, and even a wristband that constantly records audio and saves 60-second clips with the push of a button. Think of all the “that’s what she said”s that have been lost to history!
The good news? Such devices are already going the way of the electric egg scrambler. Gartner Inc., which tracks the “hype cycle” of new tech, notes expectations are falling as the category heads toward the “trough of disillusionment.” (The phrase, which sounds like the name of an emo band, refers to the moment when interest fades and everyone moves on.)
Not even the big boys are winning with wearables. Nearly two years after Google Glass launched, it was pulled from the market after being widely derided as a goofy luxury item synonymous with Silicon Valley pretension. Samsung is having so much trouble getting its smartwatch right, it has released six versions in roughly a year. Then there’s Apple, which says its watch—which isn’t fully functional unless you’re also carrying an iPhone—“represents a new chapter in the relationship people have with technology.” Maybe…if the chapter is called “Trying to keep track of two devices when one was more than adequate.”
Boasting clocks, calendars, cameras, and apps, smartwatches are a hell of a lot like smartphones, except most don’t make calls. That leaves companies scrambling to justify their existence, often by touting them as a solution to problems that don’t exist. Here’s some Sony ad copy for its SmartWatch: “At work, you can be discreetly notified of incoming e-mail, calendar events, and other important information.” Because who wants to suffer the shame of being caught reading e-mail at work?
As lame as they are, smartwatches aren’t what makes the wearable revolution deplorable; it’s the fringe gadgets. Take Mimo, a onesie that tracks your sleeping baby’s breathing and body position—perfect for the new parent who needs more stress. Or No More Woof, a headset that claims to translate canine thoughts into human language. Now when your dog barks, you’ll know he’s really saying: “I just pooped in your shoes because you’re too busy analyzing the data from your smart underwear to walk me.”
It’s not enough to do dumb things; these products also look dumb. From Google Glass to fitness trackers, wearables are at worst hideous, and at best, not completely hideous.
But the real reason to resist the onslaught is not aesthetics or functionality but privacy. These devices generate information that can be easily exploited. Last year such data was used as courtroom evidence for the first time, ushering in an era where our gizmo-monitored movements can be used against us.
So let’s add pernicious to redundant and expensive. While we’re at it, let’s also add soon to be obsolete. Because however much tech firms want you to think wearables are the future, they’re already on their way to being outmoded…by implantables. After all, who needs a smartwatch when you can have a state-of-the-art sensor surgically embedded right in your occipital lobe?
Photos by Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images