Is happiness a watch called Apple?

POSTED: 04/16/15 6:29 PM

The Apple Watch promises to make users’ lives better in a number of ways, from helping them stay on schedule to tracking their physical activity. But early reviews of the product suggest another possible improvement: It might get us to quit staring at our phones, Anna North writes in her blog on the New York Times web site.

“At the Times, Farhad Manjoo writes that the watch “could address some of the social angst wrought by smartphones.” It communicates with wearers in part via a system of taps, minimizing the amount of time they have to spend actually looking at the screen. The device, Mr. Manjoo writes, “could usher in a transformation of social norms just as profound as those we saw with its brother, the smartphone — except, amazingly, in reverse.”

Geoffrey A. Fowler at The Wall Street Journal appreciates the tapping system. The watch, he writes, “has made me more present. I’m less likely to absent-mindedly reach for my phone, or feel compelled to leave it on the table during supper.”

Manjoo and Fowler both report looking at the watch screen for shorter stints than they’d spend on their phones, but it’s certainly possible to imagine users getting more glued to their watch screens with time. And heavy users of photo- and video-sharing apps will likely remain tied to their phones for now, since the watch has no camera. Still, the device at least suggests an alternative to the status quo.

IPhones are by now notorious as thieves of attention, but it’s not at all clear that people actually want to be as attentive to them as they are. The sheer frequency of public pledges to put the phone down and spend more time talking to friends and family suggests that while it’s certainly easy to kill an hour scrolling through Twitter, it may not actually be all that pleasant. (Relatedly, Facebook use is ubiquitous, but is associated with depression.)

Those who argue that smartphone use is destroying society are overstating the case. As Nathan Jurgenson has argued, interactions that take place via digital devices aren’t necessarily evil, unhealthy, or fake. But it’s worth asking if we actually enjoy all the time we spend with our phones, or if we might prefer to spend less. It’s distinctly possible that a less absorbing device might actually make us happier.

With the advent of the Apple Watch, some consumers — those able to drop at least $350, the price of the cheapest model — may have the opportunity to find out.”


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