Wearable Tech: You Better Be Watch(ing)

My phone is never far. It’s the first thing I check in the morning, I physically can’t get to destinations without it’s step-by-step directions, and the endless content it provides generally fills the gaps in my day-to-day. I’m sure the same goes for most of you. However, I still take solace in the fact that I can put my phone away, remove myself from the incessant notifications (I’m not really that popular), and disconnect with a good book. Sadly, this opportunity for solitude is becoming less and less common as technology is increasingly integrated into our lives. From smart thermostats to toothbrushes, the “internet of things” (IOT) as it’s commonly referred to, is connecting the everyday objects we interact with to the internet. This connection allows devices to record data and communicate with each other which could have some exciting possibilities. As technology improves and shrinks, it seems the reach of the IOT is limited only to the presence of an on-off switch. What does this future look like? I’m not sure, but it’s going to be a lot harder to focus on reading a book when you’re glasses and watch are flashing or buzzing.

Not surprisingly, this type of technology and connectivity has reached a more personal level, the things we wear. According to industry analyst CCS Insight, the global wearable technologies industry is expected to hit $27 billion with unit sales of 233 million by 2020. This isn’t all that surprising when you just stop and take a look around. At least on BC’s campus, the traditional wrist watch seems to have been replaced by digital display. Eyes glued to their wrist instead of phone screens, students are checking the weather, sending texts, and cheating on exams; all with smartwatches. Fitness buffs and even my friend Peter, who makes it to the gym once a month, track their steps and compete for weekly goals with fitness devices like the Fitbit. Google and Snapchat brought eyewear into the technological picture with the introduction of Google Glass and Snapchat Spectacles. While not widely adopted, these are first attempts at the potential of incorporating internet connectivity into our view of the world through eyewear.

Google Glass

There’s no doubt that integrating wearable technology into our daily lives has a lot of exciting potential. Not only do these wearable devices provide efficient ways to view notifications, but as a constant presence on your body, they continually track data about how you live your life. GPS integration, heart rate sensors, and movement identifiers all enable these devices to monitor your regular body activity, even down to your sleeping patterns. In concept, this information can be integrated into patient’s electronic health record (EHR) and give physicians insight into the context of medical emergencies as well as provide oversight of continued care plans like weight loss programs. Artificial intelligence applications could give way to things like heart attack and panic attack prediction, allowing for advanced notice and appropriate care. Disregarding data protection/privacy for a moment, the vast volume of continually-updating health data could prove unimaginable for medical researchers. Access to this data could give insight into patterns and predictors of health issues to guide research on the effects of social and living factors.  

While maybe more trivial, wearable technology could help make our lives more efficient and secure. Gesture based controls could make your Sunday newspaper reading look more like a scene of Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Enhanced security based on wearable personal identifiers could eventually replace keys and prove helpful in solving sensitive issues like gun control. By putting on any networked wearable technology, we ourselves become a part of the IOT and connect our body to the digital environment around us. Imagine waking up to the smell of fresh coffee every morning because your fitness band communicated to your coffee maker that you’ve begun to wake up. You reach over and turn down the volume on your alarm clock with a hand gesture. After getting ready for work you walk out to your car. As you approach, the car recognizes your device and the door unlocks before you can even reach for your keys. These may seem like minor improvements or unnecessary luxuries but the increased adoption of wearable technologies is opening the door for a change in how we can interact with the things around us.

Sounds pretty cool right? Well yeah, I think so, but it’s worth considering the implications of the continued integration of these technologies. The wearable nature of these devices implies continuous data collection on all of the personal information discussed above, much of that includes health data (ie. heart rate, blood pressure, sleep quality).  Health data collected from wearables like Fitbit for example, aren’t regulated by HIPAA Privacy Standards. This could pose risks to the security of this sensitive data. Much of the information collected from popular fitness trackers is governed through contracts and licensing agreements between users and the company. While security measures are in place, current arrangements lack strict oversight of data collection and usage. As wearables become more sophisticated and can collect more information from our body, the security of that data should be a consideration.

Wearables are relatively new, and there’s no disputing that their popularity is growing. The same CCS Insight study found that the market size of wearable technologies will double from 2018 to 2020. This rapid adoption shows a clear willingness to bring these personal technologies into our lives. Clothing and accessories are a few of the most outward representation of self-expression. For possibly the first time, we are beginning to recognize technology as part of our self-identity. Whether good or bad, it’s a reality that’s becoming a part of our daily life. Perhaps the days of sitting down with a book and disconnecting from the digital world are close to over, but at least I can change the color of my light bulbs from my wrist.




  1. shannonbenoit5 · ·

    Great article! I also love sitting down with a book and putting down my phone, and while I still try and do this as often as I can, I completely agree that it has become increasingly more difficult. Last semester I went on a retreat where we weren’t supposed to look at our phones for the whole weekend, and while I did resist, I was disappointed in myself with how many times I subconsciously went to reach for my phone. It really has been integrated into our lives in so many ways, and while, as you mentioned, there are so many great opportunities and implications of this growing technology, I find it really sad that the days of disconnecting may be drawing to a close.

  2. We will talk about the downside of tech later in the semester, on both an individual and societal level. I did upgrade to an Apple watch v4, but I still am not convinced there’s a killer application for the watch yet. Lots of nice to haves, but few that are musts (except for the ping my iphone feature).

  3. I definitely agree that wearables are already making our lives much more efficient (and cool). But you make a great point about the absence of regulation of data that these companies collect, especially considering they are more and more liked to health information (like on fitbits and Amazon tracking your grocery list). These technologies are so cool until you start to realize there’s a computer on the other end recording everything you do. This post has definitely encouraged me to take a thorough look through the agreements I usually just blindly click “agree” on.

  4. Really interesting topic! I was particularly struck by the idea that wearable tech integrates the user directly into the IoT – in effect, we become another input and data repository in the link of connected devices. While I personally do not own a lot of wearable technology, I have used Google Glass a few times before – my high school had one pair that we could check out of the library. At the time (probably 5-6 years ago at this point), it was very difficult to see any use cases – who would be seriously interested in playing games that superimposed skeet-shooting graphics in your field of vision or in regularly seeing news headlines float past your eyes? Now, however, it feels as though we have become accustomed to the kind of constant stimuli that sense-based wearable tech taps into – even children’s entertainment, like the Mario games for Nintendo 3DS, market themselves with the same augmented reality experiences that Google Glass originally offered. Even though they were arguably ahead of their time, it seems like a lot of wearable tech developers needed to build out a market along with their products. Google Glass did this poorly, but other brands, like Fitbit, were massively successful in doing so.

  5. Jaclin Murphy · ·

    I love reading (not assigned of course). But i’ve been guilty lately of downloading books on to my phone, instead of buying hard copies. It is so much easier because I can buy any book I want, anytime I want. I also don’t have to carry around the hard copy, but can read a few pages wherever I am. I spend a lot of time on my phone. For this exact reason, I have not updated my phone in an attempt to not have the feature that tells you your screen time. I’m too scared. I personally don’t understand the wearables craze. I have plenty of friends that have apple watches, but I don’t get the appeal. There is nothing it does that your phone can’t, and the screen is much smaller. You already have your phone all the time, why do you need a smaller version a foot away. However, I have heard that wearables have potential medical use, such as replacing medical devices. I certainly see the benefits in this.

  6. I personally have avoided buying an Apple watch specifically because I don’t want to be connected to my phone constantly. I agree with Jaclin, I don’t really get the appeal. For personal use, I don’t necessarily think its a great investment. However, I do think that wearable devices could bring monumental changes to the future of health care. Robots and other technologies are already being used to connect with patients hundreds of miles from doctors. I imagine that wearable technology could be used in a similar capacity, allowing for patient vitals to be checked by doctors remotely if a patient cannot get to a medical center.

  7. Personally, I find the lust for wearable technology a little bit worrisome. Coming from an old fashioned family with rules like family dinner every night and no phones at the dinner table, I’ve learned to value those moments of pure human interaction that are now becoming few and far between. I would even admit that I find it sad that some people need to spend thousands on a vacation just to part ways with their laptop and cellphone for a few days. Although there’s no denying the potential advantages of wearable tech that we’ll see in the years to come, I think its important that we consider wearables, and even technology as a whole, as a supplement to our lives; like any supplement, healthy in moderation but detrimental in excess. I’m interested to see what’s coming in the form of wearable technology, but more importantly how we implement the tech in our daily lives. Will it truly remain a supplement? Or will it become so essential to our daily lives that we can’t seem to part ways with it? I think that until I learn how to better balance my addiction to technology with those purely human moments, I’ll stay on the safe side and stick to my analog watch and old fashioned sunglasses.

  8. I find this topic fascinating, because wearable technology is constantly changing. As a junior in high school, I shadowed a plastic surgeon who was using Google Glasses to video tape his surgical procedures for educational purposes. This past summer, I worked at Silicon Valley Bank in the life sciences group. The Digital Health space is growing and it is still unclear whether these companies should be categorized as core technology companies, core life sciences or if it is possible to be a hybrid. Wearables are unique in that they attract both traditional technology VCs and life science VCs (who would be more familiar with policies such as HIPAA). For example, you highlighted FitBit as an early mover. Their Series C funding round included True Ventures and Felicis Ventures. True Ventures specializes in early stage technology startups and Felicis Ventures invests in some technology, but also in healthcare and medical devices. As you mentioned, with licensing and contracts being the primary form of data protection, it will be exciting and potentially scary to see how this space evolves from both a company and investor perspective.

  9. Olivia Crowley · ·

    This post really resonates with me because I have come to the point where I feel like I can not live without my Apple Watch. If I forget to take it off the charger before heading out to a morning workout session, when the class is over I feel like I haven’t worked out at all. If my Orangetheory class isn’t recorded as a HIIT workout and my summary isn’t sent to my friends on the Activity app, what’s the point? If my watch dies in the middle of the day, I immediately begin to panic as I know that my Exercise, Move, andStand goals will not be met, even though I plan to be quite active that day. I can’t even imagine what life would be like if I began to wear something even more complex such as the Google Glasses.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with this feeling! When my Fitbit dies and I go for a run I feel like I haven’t gotten the ‘benefit’ of going for a run. Logically, I know that I’m still burning the same calories and I’m still getting my heart rate up. But at the same time when I look at the day and see that I haven’t met my step-goal for the day, it’s pretty defeating!

  10. Great post! I have to say I loved the idea of Google Glasses, but that hype seems to have died down a bit due to the expensive costs. Of course with any emerging and developing technology, the first iterations of these products will always be expensive. I think the biggest potential for wearable technology is definitely expanding in the healthcare industry. As Apple and FItbit try to compete for market share to help users monitor heart rate and steps taken throughout the day, there is still a lot of potential to take it one step further. If there are ways to help detect low blood sugar in diabetics without needing to implant a sensor into the skin, that would be groundbreaking. A company called Dexcom essentially has technology to help with continuous glucose monitoring but requires devices to be inserted under the skin. if there are wearable technology that requires less invasiveness for users, it would truly benefit the medical community as people with different medical conditions can stay updated and better manage their lifestyles. Of course, as you mentioned HIPAA is a concern and companies will have to establish rules that don’t go past the boundaries. The other opportunity I see is wearable watches potentially projecting 3-d images to help people in different industries such as construction, healthcare, and architecture.

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