Will Wearable Technologies Impact Human Behavior ?

Will Wearable Technologies Impact Human Behavior ?

By Sanda Berar

I’ll make it clear from the beginning – I am biased. I have been, since childhood, a big fan of sci-fi literature and movies.

This might have something to do with my current interest and belief in the future of wearable technologies, contextual computing, augmented reality and their convergence.

The question I have is not if/when wearable technologies will go mainstream and become an inherent part of our lives, but rather what is the correlation between these technologies and the human behavior change.

More precisely:

  1. Can wearable technology go mainstream before/without a change in the human behavior?
  2. What are the steps and triggers in the human behavior change process?
  3. How would the new technology impact the human behavior, how will we act, learn, eat, live – in a world where wearable tech is as common as smartphones are today?

The evolution in the sensor technology enabled the development of the first wearable tech consumer products – sensor powered bands, their main function being to track and measure our performance (function known as quantify self). These devices proved to be useful gadgets, helping us to improve our habits and reach our fitness goals – and even more they are driving a human behavior change, namely (self) competitiveness.  When the change is accepted and becomes addictive, the market demand is consequently following.

The sensor powered bands are obviously the first successful story in the wearable tech market, a new product category has emerged, but they are still far from being a mass-market product.

We could assume that in order to reach mass-market, the cycle above needs more iterations, with hardware advancements, but more significantly with new functions/applications that would trigger desired human behavior changes.

The current limitations and developments needed in hardware are the clearer ones, with the most vital areas for improvements being about power optimization, miniaturization and flexibility of the components to enable truly fashionable designs, and of course increased processing capacity to enable more stand-alone complex functionalities (and all at the same time). While no perfect solutions exist today, the problem statements are well-defined.

The same cannot be said about the functions/applications – where the question throughout the industry, analysts and consumers is not about what needs to be improved, but rather “what is it”?  The right question, however, is not what new functionality the wearable technology could/would enable, but what is the human behavior change we aim to influence?

Product development has at its core the consumer need. Following Maslow’s pyramid of needs we shall look from the basic need of being healthy, to the needs of autonomy, belonging and socializing and finally the needs for knowledge and self-actualization. And never to be under-estimated, the addiction our brain has to convenience and immediacy [Thinking Fast and Slow]

For the sake of the game, we could paint some possible scenarios.

  • The need to be healthy.

    Wearables become highly accurate and reliable in quality biometrics, plus convenient to use daily.  Technology companies liaise with medical institutions and authorities, so that the devices are started to be promoted by the private and health sectors and insurance companies offer discounts when the gadgets are used for daily health-tracking.

    The data is imported constantly to the health service(s) cloud and available in real-time for doctors. Not only would the doctors have significant information available at the time of the check-ups, but the need to check-up with doctors for less severe diseases would decrease. In fact, you are not expected to schedule an appointment anymore, but your doctor will call you to schedule a checkup based on the data received and analyzed. Furthermore, wearable in health sector could actually enable “DIY health”. The consumers have, through sensor enabled wearable, the knowledge and hence the possibility to act for disease prevention, rather than only seek treatment when required – a desired change in the human behavior.

  • The need for emotional connections

    Dr. John M. Gottman, internationally recognized authority in the area of human relationship, has advanced a model that identifies the basic components of emotional connection. According to Dr. Gottman, people frequently make what he calls “bids” for emotional connection. According to this model, the most harmful response that a person can receive for an “emotional bid” is not an angry response (turning against), but a non-response (ignoring, turning away). In many cases the bid is ignored because it has not been recognized, but the harm is done nevertheless.

    Wearables become tangible connections between loved ones over any distance. We don’t miss the “emotional bids” sent to us anymore. Bracelets vibrate or light up when the significant other is thinking of us. The jacket our son is wearing allows us to send him a hug while we are at work. We get instant reminders when we feel down that we are loved. When we are happy, the feeling is going “out” to the dear friends. Sharing love becomes a constant part of our day, it’s done effortlessly and instantly through our gadgets. Can it become addictive?

  • The need for autonomy and being in control

    People have an instinctual need for safety, autonomy or being in control, yearning for a predictable, orderly world.

    Wearable technologies and embedded sensors will passively be gathering information from their users and the environment, to create knowledge which is optimized and predictive to an individual’s current need, creating a safe world where we are always in the know. We will be getting the information that we need, at the right time and in the right place.

    • You get notified at the right time to leave so that you catch the bus that gets you home at your usual time.
    • Its Friday night and, as usually, you are out with your wife when you pass by a restaurant recommended by a friend and you are reminded just in time that you wanted to try it.
    • You missed the call from your mother while at work, you get reminded to call back when you arrive home (and not during you’re dinner with the suppliers).
    • It will rain in the afternoon, you get reminded to pick up the umbrella when you are at the door to leave for school.
    • You are having such an interesting conversation with your friends and what to share about the last book you’ve read but you can’t remember the title anymore. The gadget has been listening to your conversation and comes back with the right answer.

And, equally important, you’re wearable will never tell you “it’s time to go for a short walk” while you are in a meeting with your boss, even though you stayed on the same chair for 4 hours ….

This future is not science-fiction anymore. Luckily the sci-fi literature is still safe with the teleporting and time-travelling topics. At least for now.



Image Courtesy of decodablefashion.com

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