A Watch Too Far

This was the week, the week that is said to have changed everything for Apple, the week we’ve been waiting for since Steve Jobs passed away three years ago.

The “Apple Watch” was introduced.

Touted as a “new chapter” in Apple’s history, it is said to be a revolutionary way to interact with one’s digital device. This has been coming for a long time and rumors of an Apple wearable have been around for years. I even wrote about the possibility last year, speculating on my vision of such a device. Now that it’s here and we can see Apple’s full vision, we can contemplate exactly what Apple has introduced into the world.

A Short Trip Through Computing History

Go back about forty years ago and computers were still rather large machines that resided mostly in universities, large businesses, and government institutions. The thought that a regular person could own a “personal” computer was a foreign concept. However, everything changed in the late 70s when personal computers became a reality, spurred on tremendously by the Apple II, amongst others.

This was the first big leap of a computer from the monolithic corporate installation to a device in one’s own home. It didn’t immediately take hold but slowly over the years the personal computer became ubiquitous. People had a relationship to their computer, it was a part of their lives. Yet, for many years it remained a box that sat on a desk in their house.

The next big leap occurred with the laptop computer, which allowed people to take their computing experience outside the house. Portability changed things dramatically, because a laptop made the computer more personal, more available, more connected to one’s life. But weight, size, and lack of battery life held things back. Laptops were only a step in the evolution of making a computer truly personal.

Then came the iPhone, the biggest step in that evolution so far. Suddenly a computer was in your pocket, available anytime you wanted it. It was always there, always ready to connect you to your digital world. The barriers have been broken down and smart phones have taken over our lives. Everywhere you look people are using them, at all times. They are truly personal computers, much more so than the traditional PC.

Over this time the common trajectory of computers has been from large and disconnected from humans, to small and intimately connected to us. This has tracked closely with size and portability. From the desktop to the laptop to the smart phone.

So, About That Watch

So why am I giving you a history lesson?

Because I think the Apple Watch is the natural progression of this evolution of computers. It may have seemed the smart phone was the last conqueror of our computing lives, but even it has limits. We don’t carry it in our hands at all times, and must put it in our pockets or purses on occasion. However, the Apple Watch is always there, sitting on our wrist, allowing us constant connection to our computers. Computers can be in our lives without any interruption, at all times.

But is this a good thing? Should computers become this personal? Should we want this amount of connection with no break?

Those are the questions I’ve been asking myself a lot in the past couple days. Even before this I’ve struggled with being addicted to my iPhone, with checking it too often, with ignoring people as I stared into it. It seems to sit near me at all times, ready to give me that sweet hit of a notification that my body craves.

I think many people feel the same way, although many don’t think this is a bad thing. It may just be I’m an old man at the ripe age of 32. I remember a time before iPhones, before the internet actually. I remember not having the intimate connection with my computer. I remember living more in the real world, taking more notice of things instead of my phone. But I fully admit I might be idealizing the past and the younger generation has no nostalgia for those times.

But one must ask what’s the end game, how connected will we become with our computers? While the Apple Watch is always on your wrist, it still is not as extreme as something like Google Glass, where you literally must stare at your computer at all times. I assume eventually in some far off future we will have direct neural connections with computers, allowing our very thoughts to intermingle to the point the distinction between humans and machines might be impossible to differentiate. That will truly be a personal experience.

Going back to the Apple Watch though, I think it may have crossed a line in my own mind. I don’t want my computer to be “that” personal, to the point I can’t simply put it in my pocket and be free of distraction. Maybe I’m deluding myself and I’ll get used to it, the same way I’ve gotten used to having an iPhone at all times. I don’t know, but I feel there needs to be some disconnection, some way to have a conversation with a friend and not have your wrist tingling every few minutes.

The counter argument to this is that the watch actually increases your connection to other people, because we all connect with each other so much over the internet nowadays. I appreciate this argument, but I’m not sure I’m ready to sacrifice my real world connections to such a degree for my online connections. There still seems something fundamentally different between the two. Texting someone just can’t compare to an actual real world conversation. Sharing your heartbeat may be a great gimmick, but still pales in comparison to actually feeling another human being’s touch.

There’s a clear evolution of computers that are becoming more and more personal and connected to us. However, with that connection to computers, we sacrifice more and more of our human connection. This evolution can’t be stopped though, and will continue ever further into the future. The Apple Watch is the next stop on the line, and the one where I may have to get off.