When someone looks down at a swivelled wrist it is a universal signal of impatience.
I wonder if the inventors of smart watches have considered this. Do a Google image search for people checking their watch and everyone looks fed up, distracted or impatient. Now do a Google image search using the word ‘impatience.’ See what I mean?
For years glancing at a watch has been a gesture, mimed or otherwise, that is a value judgement on the context in which it is made. In a meeting it mostly says ‘hurry up’ or ‘I’m bored.’
In the last 30 years technology has become part of the everyday. At first it had us glued to our desks. Then it moved to our laps. Next it moved to our hands. Now it has landed on our wrists.
At each turning point tech has had some impact on our social behaviour. The web enabled us to have conversations with communities elsewhere, subtly distancing us from our colleagues at adjacent desks. The laptop and wifi and dongles enabled us to do this in contexts where these disparate discussions had the potential to be incrementally more intrusive. Then phones enabled mobility and ubiquity, creating more opportunities for distraction – and some irritation. I can remember having lunch with my daughter and her phone and asking the waiter for a table for three.
We’ve dealt with all of these intrusions, largely capitulating because there’s usually a trade off and we all increasingly accept that we ‘need’ to be connected.
Now we have the smart watch and I wonder if we’ve crossed a line. I was in a meeting yesterday and someone fleetingly looked at their smart watch. I immediately felt that I was over-staying my welcome. We’re programmed to see a glance at a watch as a signal that our time is up or the wearer is bored or frustrated.
It makes me wonder whether technology companies ought to employ etiquette experts to advise on NPD – or at least someone to examine the semiotics of a device and how it is used. There comes a point when there is a risk that tech strays into the inhuman. Maybe the engineers and designers who create devices need a bit of emotional input to avoid the risk that their creations become more about alienation than connection. There’s a balance to be struck between emotional intelligence and IT.