On Tuesday, Apple unveiled a bevy of new products, the most notable of which was their new Apple Watch. As CEO Tim Cook explained to his drooling audience, "What we didn't do was take the iPhone and shrink the interface and strap it on your wrist.” The watch, Cook promised, will be an all-new gadget to fiddle with (alongside the rest).
It remains to be seen how well the watch will play with consumers, but in the mean time (pun intended) the buzz has been about how this is a big step for Apple into the world of “wearable tech.” In recent years designers have focused on integrating devices into our clothes and accessories so they can be worn rather than carried.
Apple’s foray into wearable tech points to a broader cultural shift as well. Technology has slowly crept into the territory of fashion and style, rather than simply focusing on utility and functionality. We have come to perceive carrying, and now wearing the gadget du jour as if it were a trendy pair of jeans, hairstyle, or designer outfit. (And I blame Zack Morris for it—continue on to the end of this post for a sidebar on why!)
Conversations about whether or when young people can have a new device still seem to focus on usefulness and entertainment demand, but increasingly it is becoming much more a question of fashion.
Young people may appeal to their parents’ pragmatism, but really they just want to fit in. Now it appears that the Apple Watch will push conversations about buying back-to-school clothes even further towards whether or not to allow young people to start using the latest piece of technology.
As parents and youth leaders engage in conversations about the Apple Watch and other wearable tech in the days ahead, here are a few points to keep in mind:
1. Ask questions about how it actually looks, rather than how well it might function. Critics are already dismissing the Apple Watch, and other wearables like Google’s Glass eyewear, for being useful as tech but ugly as fashion. Appeal to a young person’s sense of style.
2. The era in which owning the latest high-tech device is equated with coolness may be ending. A lot of responses to the Apple Watch were equal parts excitement over the technology and weariness about using it. At some point consumers may echo that sentiment with their wallets and decide they have as many devices as they want or need. Ask teens where they think we are on the threshold of “too much tech.”
3. Encourage young people to think about the ramifications of being literally connected to a device rather than figuratively. Wearing a “regular” watch ties us to a particular way of relating to time. Wearing a mini-computer links us to much more connectivity with the world. Teens initially adopted cell phones without much concern that it would be an invasive means of surveillance for parents. Use the Apple Watch topic as an excuse to affirm that you trust the young people in your life and do not want them to feel like you are constantly monitoring them.
4. Think about watches as meaningful objects apart from any impressive technological enhancements. Before phones became the standard timekeeping device, watches often marked a rite of passage from childhood to adolescence, and then into adulthood. Consider giving a teen their own watch as a gift marking the fact that they have reached a certain maturity level.
5. Physical boundaries help to reinforce digital ones. Wearable tech is most alarming because it seeks to collapse the boundaries between us and technology even further. We encourage families to consider developing a family covenant or contract to establish healthy media and technology boundaries. Incorporating wearable tech into these agreements could be a difficult hurdle if these products take off.
Although the Apple Watch does not hit the market until 2015, if the teenagers around you are talking about this new release, it’s a good time to talk with them about thoughtful responses.
“I Blame Zack Morris”
That’s right, a character from the iconic 1990s teen TV series Saved By the Bell.
If you look back through pop culture history, most characters who used what were considered at the time to be the most high-tech gadgets were almost always geeky outsiders. The 1985 film Revenge of the Nerds is a perfect example—nerds exact revenge on their “Jock” tormentors using then-cutting-edge gizmos like synthesizers and LED lights.
In 1989 young people started seeing Zack Morris, the popular jock-looking teen, making calls on a delightfully clunky Motorola DynaTac mobile phone. What most teens didn’t realize at the time was that the phone would have cost Zack’s parents $4,000.
As cell phones became more affordable, a lot of parents recognized that it would be wise to give their newly licensed teens a way to call home in case of emergency. Rather than shrug off the high-tech brick that would tether them to mom and dad, most teens gladly accepted the new device. The logic was simple: Zack Morris has one of these! Many teens might have fought back against lugging around those early, geeky looking cell phones if Zack hadn’t made them seem cool. That is why I blame Zack Morris for turning technology into a fashion accessory!