The Inevitable Wearable Technology Backlash

OK, I’ve gone on record: I think wearable technology is a huge disruptive wave currently bearing down on us. Accept it.

And I’ve also said that stupid wearable technology is inevitable. Accept that as well.

It appears that this dam is beginning to burst.

Catharine Taylor had a humorous and totally on-point reaction to the “tech-togs” that were unveiled at CES. Her take: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Maarten Albarda a similar reaction to his first go-around with Google Glass: “Huh?”

Don’t get me wrong. Wearable technology, together with the “web of everything,” will eventually change our lives, but most of us won’t be going willingly. We’re going to have to get through the “bubble of silliness” first. Some of this stuff will make sense and elicit a well-earned “cool” (or “dope” or “sick” or what ever generational thumbs-up is appropriate). Other things will garner an equally well-earned WTF? And some will be imminently sensible but will still end up being tossed out with the bathwater anyway.

Rob Garner always says “adoption follows function.” This is true, but each of us has different thresholds for what we deem to be functional. If technology starts moving that bar, we know, thanks to the work of Everett Rogers and others, that the audience’s acceptance of that will follow the inevitable bell curve. Functionality is not equal in the eyes of all beholders.

The other problem with these new interfaces is that function is currently scattered around like a handful of grass clippings in the wind. Sure, there are shards of usefulness, but unless you’re willing to wear more layers of wearable tech than your average early-adopting Eskimo (or, as we say here in the politically correct north, Inuit), it’s difficult to see how this can significantly improve our day-to-day lives.

The other thing we have to grapple with is what I would call the WACF: the Weird and Creepy Factor. How exactly do we feel about having the frequency of our butt imprinting our sofa, our bank balance, our blood pressure and our body fat percentage beamed up to the data center of a start-up we’d never heard of before last Friday? I’m an admitted early adopter, and I have to confess: I’m not ready to make that leap right now.

It’s not just the privacy of my personal data that’s holding me back, although that is certainly a concern. Part of this goes back to something I talked about a few columns back: the redefinition of what it means to “be” online rather than “go” online. With wearable technology, we’re always “on," plugged into the network and sharing data whether we’re aware of it or not, providing a philosophical loss of control. Chances are that we haven’t given this a lot of rational consideration, but it contributes to that niggling WACF that may be keeping us from donning the latest piece of wearable tech.

Eventually, the accumulated functionality of all this new technology will overcome all these barriers to adoption, but we will all have differing thresholds marking our surrender to the inevitable.  Garner’s assertion that adoption follows function is true, but it’s true of the functional wave as a whole -- and in that wave, there will be winners and losers.

Not all functional improvements get adopted. If all adoption followed all functional improvements, I’d be using a Dvorak keyboard right now. Betamax would have become the standard for videocassettes. And we’d be conversing in Esperanto. All these were functional improvements, but casualties to an audience not quite ready to embrace them.

Expect more to come.
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8 comments about "The Inevitable Wearable Technology Backlash".
  1. Jeff Robinson from JRC Limited , January 16, 2014 at 12:38 p.m.
    Great piece Gord. Just because the technology exists it does not mean that everyone has to embrace it.
  2. Dan Ciccone from MEDIAFICIONADO , January 16, 2014 at 12:46 p.m.
    I don't see a backlash coming. The wearable technology that seems to be getting the most attention focuses on health and athletics. Without going into my personal experience with my wearable device (which I love btw), I believe the technology is not as ubiquitous as a cell phone or computer. There will be a sector of the population that embraces and drives the technology and for those of us who do, there will be more activation and engagement vs. backlash. If synergistic marketing opportunities follow, then it's all the better.
  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , January 16, 2014 at 2:02 p.m.
    The best thing I could think of doing as soon as I got a car was being around and nobody knew where I was and nobody could contact me even when I was in a five mile radius of home. ... Would an employer rather hire a healthy person with a healthy family or one with certain health problems that could cost the company more money ? At Will means an employer can fire anyone for any reason (except for race, color, creed, age, gender IF you can prove it over a significant time period) and doesn't have to reveal the reason. Wearable technology gives employers more reasons to eliminate you and you will never know. Most people do not have irreplaceable skills. Bad credit report due to an illness that you are trying to overcome by using the help of technology (if they afford it) means toasted. If the results of the wearables were seen on a non-computer devise that cannot be tracked, it would be helpful.
  4. Steve Plunkett from Rockfish , January 16, 2014 at 2:03 p.m.
    Wearable trackable GPS in public use... earrings, hats, etc... track your kids, your wife, your husband? i agree..
  5. Simon Jones from WearableTechWatch , January 16, 2014 at 5:41 p.m.
    You're quite right to be uneasy - right now the most valuable thing about #wearabletech is the data you're generating. See my blog post from earlier today on this at http://wp.me/p3JmwE-8n
  6. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , January 17, 2014 at 4:28 a.m.
    +1 Best article I've seen on this subject. I like the concept of "bubble of silliness" - remember how mobile phones were seen at first? http://gizmodo.com/5944013/14-people-using-hilariously-giant-old-cell-phones
  7. Rob Garner from Advice Interactive Group , January 17, 2014 at 6:16 p.m.
    Gord - Clever use of the word “Garner” as both a proper noun and verb. I've been viewing this topic from a more anthropological POV, and will just say that highly disruptive technologies always receive a backlash. In fact, if there wasn't a backlash, I would be more concerned that my own future predictions for wearables were not on the right track. As you have stated to me in comments and in person, we agree more than we disagree about Glass and wearables, but I have yet to learn what that agreement actually is. Maybe I will understand in your next column. : )
  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , January 17, 2014 at 6:56 p.m.
    Simon Jones: Read your article and agree. This is a scam of proportions that should scare the hibbegeebees out of people. We have such little value of our lives, we are willing to sell them for $0. We are begging to be controlled.