Wearable devices: don’t build anti-social user experiences

By The App Business under Insights 22 August 2013

I’ll never forget the sight of a smartly dressed man having an intense argument with himself in the middle of a crowded street.

Instinctively, I crossed the road to watch him from a safer distance, when I realised that he wasn’t arguing with himself, but with a Motorola headset that was sticking out of his ear.

And here lies the problem with ‘wearable’ mobile devices – they often render the user into a bumbling cyborg who is too engrossed in their own user experience to be aware of their social surroundings.

I think Google Glass will be no different.

Sergey Brin’s latest gadget is designed to combat the awkwardness caused by looking down at your mobile phone mid-conversation.

To solve this, Glass attempts to mix the private world of user technology with the public world of physical social interactions – creating a whole host of social faux pas that supersede the original problem.

The crucial component of all good social interactions is that all participants operate through the same social medium. This is why people share cigarettes, go for a coffee, sit down for a meal etc. because they are all sharing an experience that augments their personal relationships.

But once you don those cyber spectacles the social playing field is no longer equal – your bespectacled husband may be in the room talking to you but he is also very much outside the room.

Where could he be? Is he looking at his calendar? Is he watching Internet pornography!? You have no idea. If he was staring down at his iPhone then at least you know that you don’t have his full attention, but his multi-tasking is getting in the way of your eye contact…

For wearable technology to be truly useful it has to penetrate the consumer market on a mass scale so that it becomes the social norm. But for this to be achieved it has to integrate seamlessly into our behavioural patterns, something that I don’t see happening for Sergey Brin’s brainchild.

A healthy human relationship is the best user experience we can hope for, so why let technology get in the way? We should be designing wearable technology that augments and doesn’t obstruct our social interactions.

So next time you read an article about Google Glass, spare a thought for our Motorola man…