The Inevitable Wearable Technology Backlash

First published January 16, 2014 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

piem-1024x705Okay, 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?”

Look – 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 with technology 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.  This requires us with 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 functional improvements – all casualties to an audience not quite ready to embrace them.

Expect more to come.

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