Smartwatches: Digital Handcuffs or Magic Bracelets?
Some regard the smartwatch as little more than an extra phone screen, but it can be a powerful tool that reduces the time we spend using other devices, enabling us to better manage our digital lives without missing out on important information. According to BI Intelligence, global smartwatch shipments are expected to reach 70 million by 2021. 1 These devices offer users the benefits of an activity tracker together with quick and easy access to smartphone functionalities such as viewing and
... nding to messages and remote access to music controls. Because smartwatches are worn, they enable people to receive notifications in situations where phones are out of reach in pockets and bags. These wearables therefore offer the promise of instantaneous delivery of timely information straight to the wrist while the user is on the move, reducing fear of missing out (FOMO) on important information. To avoid FOMO, we risk information overload as unprecedented amounts of content are delivered to our devices throughout the day, resulting in a constant barrage of interruptions. The challenges of shifting and dividing our attention across a range of devices were discussed in a previous article of this column. 2 But maintaining focus and concentration are not the only difficulties we face. The negative implications of being "always online" are frequently recounted in the media as people find it increasingly difficult to disconnect from work and focus on other parts of their life when work-related content is so readily available. In addition, it seems possible-and perhaps even likely-that smartwatches might increase our expectations of being both reachable and responsive, and subsequently also increase the feeling of being tethered to our smartphone. Research shows that users attend to more than 60 smartphone notifications per day, often within minutes. 3 Other work highlights the addictive nature of checking smartphones for messages, 4 even while on the toilet. 5 There are therefore concerns that by increasing access to notifications, smartwatches might exacerbate this behavior, especially if they're considered as an extra phone screen. 6 Indeed, recent research suggests that users are just as likely to interact frequently with their smartwatches as they are with their smartphones. 7