Resistance Is Futile: Just Put On The Wearable Web And Enjoy It

This just in from across the pond: UK tech market analyst Andrew Sheehy of Generator Research informs us that we might as well don the interactive glasses, connected watches and even headband monitors. They will win the day despite any consumer reticence. In essence, he argues, the supply-side forces, from manufacturers to supporting researchers, are so overwhelming and determined to make this the next stage in connectivity and gadgetry, the demand-side will adjust.

“Even if there is consumer resistance, which we can already see coming from some users and privacy advocates, then we think that the supply side forces will adapt to either address the concerns, or work around the objectors,” he argues in a post introducing a report. He and Generator Research project the wearable market, which stands at $4.1 billion this year, will explode to $93.3 billion by 2018. Smart watches will be the major component of the market in the short term, with expected major pushes from Apple and Google especially, he says. To show you how optimistic this projection is, the company also says that the connected glasses market, which it sees at 800,000 units this year, will ship 47.8 million by 2018, too.

It is easy enough to mock such sentiments, both for their optimistic projections and the presumption that the supply side has such power in the market. The idea that people will don highly intimate devices like gadget-laden glasses and watches, which many of us gave up years ago, strikes me as daft. Sheehy himself even admits that such a view can be mistaken for a kind of supply side “arrogance.”

Well, yeah.

It's all speculation until we hit 2018, of course. While I don’t necessarily embrace the numbers Sheehy tosses about and the welcoming of this intrusive technology, I think he may be partially right for the wrong reasons.

I expect at some point many of us will adopt some form of wearable media (we have already, with location-aware cell phones) but it won’t be because Apple and Google want us to or will develop tech that is somehow too dazzling to resist. It will be because the dynamic of technological/cultural/social change is more complex than Sheehy’s model suggests.

Game-changing technologies do not emerge separate from the culture that embraces them.  In the early days of a technology like the car, TV, Internet, there is a period where people recognize some features and qualities of the new technology that align with values that run deeper than mere convenience or technical wizardry: mobility, freedom, education/information, the power of access, personal power, human connectedness. A period of negotiation and repositioning always takes place where both sides morph the technology and its role before it finds a place in the culture.

Lest we forget, the video phone was a technology introduced as an imminent consumer product at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It took almost half a century before video calling became commonplace, and this was not just a matter of technology catching up to pent-up demand. It took us this long to figure out how and when we wanted to use the video calling dynamic and to gain comfort with a new kind of media ritual. And even then, the vast majority of us don’t like or use it.

The real question marketers, manufacturers and developers need to be asking is, what set of cultural and personal values, imperatives, counterpoints, traditions, conflicts does wearable media address? It speaks to values of personal empowerment, self-awareness, managing rather than being manipulated by technology, and more.

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