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Learning, Connecting, Monitoring and Posing

Probably the most discussed technological advancement since the iPhone was introduced, wearable technology embodies the unavoidable and fascinating era of enmeshing computers and advanced electronic technologies onto our selves through accessories and clothing. In sci-fi speak it is the biological integration of electromechanical elements for the benefit of the human self. Cyborgs, then. In this article I will explore four key questions with wearables Will wearable technology make us more skilful? Will it make us more connected? Will it make us healthier? Will it be stylish?

In each, I will strive to understand the potential and concern for technology in these areas and explore how effective this tech is at replacing something inferior, or not. Duncan Stewart, Research Director from Deloitte, concluded recently that wearable technology will have the greatest effect when it replaces something noticeably inferior, or nothing at all. In essence it will only truly be beneficial when it actually solves an unmet consumer need. A good parallel comes from looking at mobile payments. Of the 7.5 million mobile payments carried out in 2012 in the USA, 7 million of them were used by customers paying for coffees in Starbucks. Simply coffees (and cakes) in Starbucks. The point here is that, in North America, where there is already a hugely established, integrated banking system the ability to conduct mobile payments is not needed. Everyone has cards, often numerous cards, and ATMs are on every corner. The consumer need to pay for something or transfer money between places or people, is already met. However, if you turn the attention to Africa, where the banks are few and far between, cards are rare, and above all, cash is an obvious and delicate asset of worth, mobile payments (such as M:Pesa or Fundamo) drastically changed the way in which Africans could deal with their finances. So it becomes clear that, in the US, mobile payments do not replace anything successfully, whereas in Africa it becomes something of great meaning. Just like mobile payments are not needed in the US, where might wearable tech cause more issues than benefits? Or just like mobile payments in Africa, where does wearable tech succeed in progression, and truly help people?

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Will Wearable Technology Make us More Skillful? | 03


Google Glass trailer (Google)

Watch any Google Glass trailer and youll be smacked around the face by some wonderfully romantic examples of how Google Glass (and therefore wearable technology overall) can help you instantly learn new vital skills that improve your life. The ability to know what a tiger looks like, when making an ice sculpture of a tigers head, we can all agree, is an important facet of everyones life. The amount of times Ive stood holding a chainsaw, with a block of ice in front of me, thinking, What the hell does a Sumatran Tiger look like again? There will, no doubt, be a huge explosion of skill apps for Google Glass that will aim to quickly and instantly make you better at something by displaying augmented reality, content and information above your right eye. iCaddy is a great example of this in action it aims to educate you on the best golf club to choose, the perfect trajectory and line to hit the ball, and I imagine, will automatically scream get in the hole once youve hit it. There are examples being talked about where novice surgeons are able to bring up videos of information of how to better conduct the surgery. Its fairly worrying that the surgeon doesnt know this already, but then the idea of using technology to perfect a skill is an ageold but also intriguing prospect. There is no doubt that technology can help us perform better and faster. Simply look at the IAAFs banning of carbon fibre blades (as worn by the infamous Oscar Pistorius) because they might offer competitors a clear mechanical advantage. The problem is not in the idea, but is instead in the consequences of using this technology too much. What Im interested in is the current human capability to cognitively learn a skill without the use of technology. A key human trait is the ability to make mistakes and learn from them. Having technology there as a

constant resource might negate this vital part of learning a skill we could become over reliant on that technology. We are all aware of the arguments against Sat Nav removing the satisfaction in finding your way to somewhere by constant navigation from a (however sexy sounding) computer voice. Mercedes are indeed in partnership with Google Glass, designing a door-to-door capability where the Google Glass wearer can receive accurate directions to and from exact destinations including walking from the car park. The problem is that actually getting lost can be beneficial. The ability to cognitively deal with a situation and find a solution (getting lost and finding your way to somewhere) is not only an important skill for your own development, but might also be a nice idea. Getting lost on a Belizean island and uncovering a new beach one that was not my intended destination, gave me a better experience. Likewise, learning from my mistakes on the golf course, and realising that I cannot use a 5-iron to get out of a bunker, has made me the slightly-less-than-terrible golfer I am today. The concern is that technology is reducing our cognitive ability to fully learn skills. Digital Dementia, as its unnecessarily drastic name suggests, is the medical understanding that gadgets ease the burden of memorizing tedious information but if we dont use our brain functions, the overall cognitive skills of being aware and perception will ultimately decrease. (Dr. Kim Young-bo, Gachon University Hospital, Incheon). Is it possible that wearable technology could encourage a more intense version of this condition? If it is used to diagnose and dictate errors and solutions when somebody is learning a skill, or worse still, if it negates the chances of somebody making an error then surely the human capacity to effectively learn new skills will be tempered.
Will Wearable Technology Make us More Skillful? | 05

Mercedes Google powered navigation (Mercedes)

There is no doubt that technology can help us perform better and faster.

iCaddy Google Glass app (iCaddy)

Google Glass Surgery

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Current wearable technology only offers the user a short-term shallow understanding of something an instant fix, one that, rather than actively helping a user to developmentally learn a skill slowly and properly, might just aim to quickly cure errors. This technology sets out to ease the burdens of normal cognition, and actually I think these burdens are very necessary parts of the true authenticity of learning a skill. Wearables and apps should be developed to take heed of the fragility and importance of true cognition, and design for a partnership with the human need to try, fail, learn, try, fail, learn, try, succeed, learn.

Look at me, look at what Im doing... Im flying a plane, is effectively what Google Glass and its ability to live-feed to others is really allowing us to do.

We all know that technology has been used with good effect to help us connect to others in situations where true connection with those is tricky. Skype-ing a brother in Sydney is a true godsend. Gone are the days of stuttering phone conversations across the world, where a seven-second delay renders the conversation useless. Wearable technology has similarly started to solve noticeably inferior connections. The Insider Band helps people simply and easily locate their friends at music festivals. Interactive map points allow users to spot the location of their friend. No longer do we need to sit, missing our favourite act, at a designated meeting point or back at the tent. Wearable technology, and Google Glass as a prime example, can help us connect with others from afar. The ability to share a live experience with somebody is a compelling and meaningful service that these kinds of tech can facilitate.4 The concern, though, is that technology in general, and therefore wearable technology, might hinder our social skills. There has been an on-going argument that mobile phones and technology are actively destroying our social skills. It is difficult to agree to this or at least outline this argument without seeming like a luddite, which, at my 30 years of age, seems a little archaic for me to promote. The digital revolution is destroying British manners leaving a generation of young people barely able to communicate properly, says etiquette specialists Debretts.

Google Glass Hangout demo (Google)

The Insider Band (Esurance & ClearHart Digital)

The digital revolution is destroying British manners leaving a generation of young people barely able to communicate properly.

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Will Wearable Technology Make Us More Connected? | 07

I Forgot My Phone film (Miles Crawford)

Now this is a misleading statement. As mentioned above, technology has actually created much richer connected experiences with people separated by time and distance. If anything, the Google Glass trailers highlight the most consumer-friendly aspect of the tech being its ability to live share. The ability to use this kind of tech to live share across continents is no doubt solving a consumer need. Where the Debretts argument might hold up, however, is when thinking about the actual human, interpersonal interactions that we have every day. The recent I Forgot My Phone short epitomises the backlash against phubbing whereby people might check their emails or reply to text messages on their phones while ignoring their friends in front of them. I think we can all admit doing exactly this, and hypocritically asking somebody else to put their phone down because its just a rude thing to do. Google Glass lovers, or Glovers as I have just termed (nb: not a serious term) might exclaim that actually the glasses help us to not only communicate with others afar, but due to its transparency can still allow us to communicate effectively face-to-face. Really? Is this true? From what I hear, talking to somebody using Google Glass, if they are still searching information, will still be like talking to somebody with a squint. Looking up to the top right will still be a pretty obvious indication that theyre either lying, or that theyre accessing Google. It reminds me of being in a pub recently, where a debate started and very quickly finished. What was the name of that small basketball player in the NBA? somebody asked Was it Spud Webb? and before

any dynamic conversation could happen, somebody had already got the phone out, and had the full answer It was Muggsy Bogues, 5 foot 3, played for Charlotte Hornets. Done, conversation over. The human interaction diverse to-ing and fro-ing of knowledge and counter-knowledge was interrupted and ended by technology.


Live sharing data and communicating with far away colleagues, friends and family members is an unarguably beneficial facet of this technology. It is a prime example of where these devices are positive for us. Wearable technology could interrupt genuine authentic face-to-face exchange. Unfortunately though, the act of using technology whilst interrupting authentic human exchange is simply progression yes its rude, but its an engrained social norm for young people, and we have to get used to that. What I suggest then is that the presence of wearable technology might create a new social behaviour whereby removing of the technology, turning off the Google Glass, and silencing the iPhone will in fact become a positive ritual a sign of respect a sign of Actually, Im going to switch this off and we can have as fallible and as fault-full and as wrong-as-it-is-right a conversation with each other.

I Forgot My Phone film (Miles Crawford)

From what I hear, talking to somebody using Google Glass... looking up to the top right will still be a pretty obvious indication that theyre either lying, or that theyre accessing Google.

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One category of wearable technology that has really exploded are devices that actively monitor, diagnose and utilise biological data from the body to provide statistics regarding the health and vitality of the wearer. From Nikes foray into technology (the Fuelband) to Jawbones UP, to Kickstarter-led projects such as the Melon Headband there are already a huge wealth of products and partner services available. Indeed, the Quantified Selves are right this moment jogging, swimming, cycling, sleeping, concentrating, not jogging, not swimming, not cycling all creating swathes of data about what they are doing. The really interesting aspect is how relevant this data is for the user. I use a heart rate monitor when running, and that information for me dictates how fast or slow I run. Likewise other people might use a Nike Fuelband and find that this work for them. The power of these products is how they make the user react to this information. There is a biological reaction to the digital feedback if somebody has not achieved their NikeFuel goal, they might jog to the bus, or actively modify their behaviour. Likewise the Melon Headband will monitor how hard you concentrate on certain tasks, causing you to try and focus more on those that you are particularly slack on. You might give your afternoon cycle full attention, but reading this article may have you completely disengaged. So this feedback loop between machine analysis and human reaction is surely a beneficial thing? By creating competition against the self and others, this feedback loop also plays into the humans innate comparison complex and strive for betterment. The accuracy of the technology is to improve a lot of the wearable tech available currently

Nike Fuelband SE (Nike)

Melon Headband (Melon)

cannot be fully aware of what exact activity youre doing and how meaning that accurate data still relies on user-tagging or other markers. However, the real potential of this health and vitality sector comes from the data mass. By learning the data patterns in scores of people, that technology and the ecosystem of services around it will only improve. This means that the understanding of how to boost health and well-being could improve too. For example, looking at the sleep patterns and routines of an unhappy person and comparing them with the metrics from a happy individual Mimo baby monitor (Mimo) could lead to more intelligent ways to recommend and improve happiness. As we all remember from school, the more data there is, the more robust an output can be. Wearable technology in this case makes business sense. 35% of absence is due to stress, anxiety and depression (DoW&P 2013), with sickness costing UK business 15 billion per year (BBC). Im sure I dont need to tell you this, but 15bn is a hell of a lot of money. So if technology can help make people happier and healthier then business directors will be happier and financial figures will be SAM CROMPTON healthier, too. Understanding the biological changes of the body en masse will always aid medical advancement. Mimo is a lovely product for babies. The connected onesie monitors the babys movement and sleep patterns helping the parents monitor their child. It can track when a baby rolls onto its back or its stomach during the night and the regularity of the babys breathing patterns. But if you consider this data being collected en masse, and collated and analysed for paediatricians, then it might help us to better understand cot death, for example. The technology is going to get smaller, more accurate, and will be placed on and in us in ways that currently seem intrusive. Researchers at the National Taiwan University

If technology can help make people happier and healthier then business directors will be happier and financial figures will be healthier, too.

Melon Headband app (Melon)

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Will Wearable Technology Make Us Healthier? | 11

Wifi-enabled tooth sensor (National Taiwan University)

in Taipei have designed a wifi-enabled tooth sensor (or wearable oral sensory system) which is placed within an artificial tooth. Because the mouth is an opening into human health, this oral sensory system has the potential to enhance exciting oral-related healthcare monitoring applications such as dietary tracking. It can accurately differentiate between coughing, drinking, chewing and speaking. So the outlook is promising however, just like the Nuclear Weapon in 90s action movies, this technology needs to be kept out of the wrong hands. Look at how Tescos has been lambasted for using Motorola armbands to monitor how often its staff take toilet breaks. The benefit of monitoring an individual, becomes a controversial corporate gain at odds with the users.7

Chris Brauer, author of The Human Cloud: Wearable Technology from Novelty to Production discusses the risk that this could create a two-tier health system in which those who can prove their lifestyle choices are beneficial obtain good rates, while those unable to do so either because they dont have access to the technology, or because they dont lead a healthy lifestyle are penalized. If wearable technology is proven as actively helping people get healthier and happier, and health care is aware and dependent on this information, then eventually health care schemes, including the NHS should eventually consider releasing this kind of technology not only for those that can afford it, but for those that need it.

This could create a two-tier health system in which those who can prove their lifestyle choices are beneficial obtain good rates, while those unable to do so ... are penalized

Jawbone UP (Jawbone)

A Jawbone Up costs about as much as a heart rate monitor (100), with a pair of Google Glasses currently costing 1000. These are not accessible prices.

Insurance companies are already capitalising on wearables it makes perfect sense for them: by actively pushing wearable tech such as heart rate monitors onto individuals, they embed that individual into this biofeedback loop that encourages the improvement of health and vitality, and therefore less payouts for the big guys. Similarly black boxes in cars (called telematics) are increasingly used by motor insurance policies to track and reduce rates for the least dangerous newly-passed 17 year olds. Whilst this makes financial sense, directly aligning benefits with those that have or use wearable technology could create divides in society. These devices are, after all, expensive. A Jawbone Up costs about as much as a heart rate monitor (100), with a pair of Google Glasses currently costing 1000. These are not accessible prices.


Does wearable tech in this instance replace something inferior or that doesnt exist? Yes it does. This, after all, is its heartland. The very fact that this technology is wearable means it is closer to our biological being. Our eyes. Our skin. Our heart. As long as the data is made relevant and engaging for the user, they will be inclined to actively improve their health, wellbeing and happiness. The hope, then, is that this technology is not kept to those that can afford it, but is instead available to the masses.

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Google Glass is the iconic flag-bearing design for wearable technology. It has been cleverly launched among opinion formers, celebrities and style icons to ensure it has become the most talked about piece of technology since the knife-that-slices-bread. Diane Von Furstenbergs Spring 2013 collection on the catwalks of New Yorks Fashion Week, saw her models wear Google Glasses as they strutted down to cheers of opulent enthusiasm. Googles rather genius #ifihadglass campaign saw celebrities and the like desperately vying for The Great Googles attention to cast its God-like light upon the selected candidate, and give them permission to hand over the $1500 to buy a pair of the glasses. This is PR at its best. Buzz after buzz after buzz after buzz. Like an annoying wasp at a picnic. But it is an admirable effort by Google to remove the social barriers that wearable technology does still have. The problem is wearable technologys design treads a fine line between trying to become as beautiful and refined as jewellery, yet, because of the infancy of the industry as we know it now, still needs to be overt and loud enough to communicate the brand, the functionality and the design in order to fuse its form onto the minds of the blogging mass public. We have learnt many lessons from the past, where we have a great technological idea, yet its advancement is held back due to a poorly executed design. Bluetooth headsets are a great example of a great idea, executed poorly, designed basically, and released blindly amongst swathes of overweight American office workers with their mobile phones clipped onto their belt.
#ifihadglass campaign (Google)

So Google have done it differently they even managed to get a 12-page feature in the notorious September issue of Vogue almost solidifying the style-credentials of glasses. Yet even with this exposure, does the style work? The actual Vogue shoot has been criticised for placing the Google Glass in a dystopian sci-fi world, accidentally playing to the social barriers of wearable technology that Google has tried so hard to break down. The images are hyperbole through environment - Glass just makes sense in a dead sci-fi future in the same way that wool feels inevitable in Scotland. Because when you actually see Glass worn in person, noticing its absolute worst trait - how it has a tendency to obscure the wearers eyeline in profile - its hard to feel anything but coldness toward the technology. Mark Wilson, The Google Glass becomes a polarising design something that the design team will have to endure but we do see other wearable tech pieces that are unarguably quite beautifully designed pieces. Misfit Wearables are a great example of a device tackling this style issue. The chief executive, Sonny Vu, has spoken about how, in this evolving category, the gadgets must be gorgeous or invisible. With their Misfit Shine, they seem to have nailed the former a gorgeous device, that not only calculates more than just footsteps (as the CEO says Life is more than just steps) but also calculates your full daily activity not just fitness, but your life. Its a great example of identifying that this gadget is not just for fitness. It lives outside of the gym, and is worn not just with a sports bra or trainers. Its ability to be worn anywhere has already earned it the status as fitness tracking jewellery.
Google Glass photograph by Steven Klein (Vogue)

Diane Von Furstenberg Spring 2013 catwalk (DVF)

Diane Von Furstenberg Spring 2013 catwalk (DVF)

Misfit Shine (Missfit Wearables)

Diane Von Furstenberg Spring 2013 catwalk (DVF)

Misfit Shine (Missfit Wearables)

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Gorgeous or invisible is a great way to think about the two options tech entrepreneurs must face. The actual design of these products becomes so much more meaningful because they are on you. People want to wear a Misfit Shine. As Mariel Brown, Head of Trends at Seymourpowell, recently commented in the Telegraph, The fundamental truth behind wearable technology is it has to look good or we just wont wear it, we need a reason to put it on.
Beddit sleep tracker (Beddit)


The key issue here, then, is the tension between wanting to design something loud (either because it should be loud to function best, or because it is obnoxiously trying to showcase itself) alongside the consumers desire for it to be something beautiful, discreet perhaps, something to wear with pride, or to use and hide. Remember, in as conversational and meme-creating world as we live in now, the style of something can make it or break it. Designers should take great care in designing something gorgeous, that works across the multiple occasions it might be present in or consider invisibility as a way to ingratiate the tech onto us, without the need to deal with the innate social barriers that might already be built. RememberEven in San Francisco, a dude wearing Google Glass looks like a dick. Kate Bevan, Guardian, June 2013. 9

The fundamental truth behind wearable technology is it has to look good or we just wont wear it, we need a reason to put it on.

The other route, of course, is to go invisible covert tech. There are obvious security concerns with this depending on what functionality the device has. Google Glass, for example, should be overt, and visible I dont want someone surreptitiously filming me. However, other devices need not be loud. Beddit is a nice example of designing to be hidden a sleep tracking device that can be kept, hidden under the sheet, and will then sync with your phone. This technology can be invisible when it needs to be. Once these devices start to operate outside of closed systems, theres a huge wealth of possibility for using hidden devices, and connecting them with my on-show devices and screens. As Seymourpowells Head of Interaction Design, Lee Carroll, put it, currently People cannot imagine the possibilities of a connected internet of things.

Even in San Francisco, a dude wearing Google Glass looks like a dick.

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Right now wearables will be developed in a bid to quickly get brands and devices to market, to coincide with the boom, or to partner with host tech launches. It will mean we will see a lot of products and services, apps and devices, that will, in 2 years time, perish. The idea of using this technology in meaningful and relevant ways is the correct aspiration for entrepreneurs and designers. It needs to functionally replace something that needs replacing or improving. Or it needs to help to make a more informed decision that can better ourselves. It needs to be designed to suit the user - to know when it should be loud, and to know when it should be hidden. The invitation has been sent out to designers to fit devices to our skin and within us a hugely important progression and an invite that brings with it a lot of responsibility. The paradigm shift will come when this merging of technology is proven to help us better ourselves and our society. Until then lets enjoy the race.

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Sam achieved a first class honours degree in Psychology from the University of Bath. He quickly joined the design and research world by setting up ProperGander, a student-led design research company working on NPD and advertising. Sam then joined The Youth Conspiracy, a global brand consultancy specialising in insight, strategy and inspiration where he became Associate Partner, leading global design projects for the likes of O2, Channel 4, McDonalds, Axe and Durex. He then entered the digital area working with Channel 4 and Holler. As Head of User Research, Sam is utilising the wealth of knowledge the team has to help create and aid innovation pipelines for brands by starting with the consumer. By giving both the clients and the designers an engaging and compelling insight into the world of the user, he hopes that future designs will very much be better for people. Email:

Seymourpowell Ltd, 327 Lillie Road, London SW6 7NR UK Tel: +44 (0)207 381 6433 Email:

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