Apple Watch, a digital device you wear on your wrist, is The Next Big Thing in the tech world. Available since late April, it’s Apple’s attempt to continue its market success with portable devices, following its iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
What can you expect for the price, which ranges from $350 for the smaller 38 millimeter version of the Apple Watch Sport to a whopping $17,000 for the larger 42 millimeter 18-karat gold version of the Apple Watch Edition?
First off, it isn’t a computer. Don’t expect Dick Tracy-like capabilities. Secondly, it doesn’t have any must-have, “killer app” functionality that your iPhone doesn’t. In fact, for the most part the Apple Watch works only if you’re carrying with you an Apple iPhone 5 or later.
The Apple Watch is the most advanced wrist-based digital device yet developed. With it, you can watch TV, listen to music, check the weather, navigate using the GPS system, check your schedule, send texts and emails, look at photos, record voice reminders, and monitor your health ... on a tiny screen.
This is one of the many ironies of the Apple Watch. Smartphones are getting larger, with bigger screens to see better but being less convenient to carry around. And here’s a device with a difficult-to-see screen that couldn’t be easier to carry around.
Another irony is that the Apple Watch stops the back-to-the-future practice of iPhone users checking the time by pulling out and clicking on their phone, like people a hundred years ago pulled out a pocket watch.
Is having a device on your wrist to prevent you from having to pull out your iPhone worth it? Many Apple aficionados and other early adopters feel it is, given initial reports of sky-high sales.
With third-party apps, you can access Twitter, Instagram, TripAdvisor, Evernote, WebMD, Uber, and many other services. You can do only a limited number of things without having an iPhone with you, such as make purchases using Apple Pay, listen to music, and track your fitness information. You’ll need to pull out your phone to take photos, since the Apple Watch lacks a camera.
To me the Apple Watch is a fascinating example of collective mania for the latest and greatest in digital gadgetry. Taken to an extreme, this leads to techno-addiction, a compulsion to have and use cutting-edge digital tools.
If it controls you, rather than you controlling it, it’s an addiction. In this sense, it’s no different from compulsive shopping, gambling, eating, hoarding, or any other activity.
In the 19th century Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Men have become the tools of their tools.” The same can be said today about some men, women, and children with digital technology. One key is whether your relationship to the technology improves the quality of your life or is a detriment to your work, academics, family, or friendships.
Maybe the biggest negative to digital technology is it’s compromising the ability to focus. The current generation of young people have drifted about as far as you can from the Sixties mantra of “Be here now.” We’re raising a generation of multitaskers who can’t pay attention to what they’re doing for more than a few minutes without checking their devices.
There’s no question that machine culture, including device culture, has its positives. Science and technological progress have raised living standards, giving ordinary people more options to pursue artistic, educational, philanthropic, and leisure activities.
With digital technology, perhaps even more important than its informational and entertainment value, is the way people around the world can link with one another, whether rich, poor, black, white, yellow, red, conservative, liberal, believer, or nonbeliever. Communicating across philosophical, political, racial, religious, and national borders can help us at least see our common humanity.
One of the key aspects of technology is the importance of using it appropriately, with the term for this being “appropriate technology.” Awareness is half the battle, both individual and societal. Excesses often accompany new technology, the goal being a balance in how to best integrate it into lives and societies.
Sometimes the balance is never completely reached. Homo habilis, or “Handy Man,” emerging in Africa some 2.4 million years ago, the first hominid clearly recognizable as us, was also the first ape-man to make and use more advanced stone tools. We used those tools to better provide for our families, and in all likelihood we also used them often enough as weapons in raiding neighboring tribes.
What’s the Apple Watch best at? Maybe just telling the time.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or reidgold.com.