Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post sharing some thoughts I had had (largely, of disappointment) related to my own use of technology. In that post, I noted how the iWatch had become more and more a part of my daily life; how I had mistrusted a human being for trying to bypass the technology; and how I disliked being confronted with evidence that I had been (geo)targeted.
A few weeks later, I received a very kind reply from a reader offering some thoughts on those reflections. The message made me think, and I wanted to share some of the insights with you. (also, the writer gave me permission to share his thoughts on the blog, even suggesting the title above). But, it was a long message, and I wasn’t sure what would be the best way of sharing it… so, I kept postponing it.
But… no more! I am very grateful that this reader took the time to write, and even more that he made me reflect further on how technology impacts on my life and my relationships with others. So, here are “Someone else’s reflections on my use of technology”, with some very minor edits (and here is the original post).
I read with interest, surprise and curiosity your blogpost. I was interested by the title as, like you, I have an interest in technology, especially the unintentional uses of it. For example, Google realised that they can track public health issues, such as flu, by examining how many people where searching for topics related to flu using their search engine (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1839505/). I was surprised at how you examined the topic solely based on what you had lost rather than the change it brought about in your behaviour. I was curious to know how you as a person perceived the failure of the Apple Watch. In other words, how you measure the impact of the failure on your daily life. As you can see, I am coming at this from a behaviour/social psychology viewpoint. You neatly presented this section by section in your blog. I will, therefore, like to respond with the same structure.
- So much more than a watch
The first thing of interest I noticed is that although it is called an Apple Watch, your first paragraph explains why you did not need a watch. I do not know how often you used the watch to tell the time compared to looking at the oven clock, your laptop or the car clock. Therefore, I cannot assess how much of an inconvenience it was for you. I do not wear a watch, yet I own one but choose not to wear it. The reason being, like you, I can find the time from elsewhere. I am interested in the change of behaviour that wearing a watch made you do. Did you start using your watch to tell the time because you were wearing a watch? If so, that is a change in behaviour. It is you deciding to use the watch function of the technology. I think you just changed your behaviour to suit the function of the technology, especially given that there are many clocks all around us all the time. If you had decided not to use the watch to tell the time, you still would have known the time from other clocks all around you. Therefore, you are not really missing the function of using the watch to tell the time. Are you unlearning not to use your watch by remembering ‘I do not have a watch therefore I must find the time elsewhere’, or relearning how to find the time from another device by automatically looking around for the time? Which it is of these two I cannot answer.
Taking this idea that you have changed your behaviour to suit the device further, then the reason you missed the functions is that it is the only thing you have access to that is prompting you to stand up or ‘prodding to move just a little bit more’. If you were baking, say, and the oven told you how many calories were in the cake you were baking, along with the amount of movement you needed to work off those calories, you would not need to rely on the Apple Watch to tell you to move. Especially if the watch had communicated with the oven regarding data concerning the movements you need to make to reach your target. In other words, if the item of technology is performing a unique function for the user of the device, then a person is more likely to miss not having that function when the technology fails.
The list of things that you now could not do was interesting. Checking emails in a meeting, is the modern equivalent of staring out of a window. In both cases, a person is looking or thinking about something else rather than taking part in the meeting, event or activity that is occurring. People have been doing this since time immemorial and will continue to do it. Yet, because you are using technology to do it rather than moving your head, you are now missing the ‘excuse’ for not taking part or listening to someone. It is also an interesting point to make in a blog read by some of your fellow academics who may attend the same meetings as you.
I notice in the list that you use the phrase ‘without having to reach for my phone’. What you are saying is that the Apple Watch is a remote control for your phone and you are missing using a remote control for your phone. Yet, before the phone, you did not need a remote control for it. In fact, I am sure that six or seven years ago if I said to you that you need a remote control for your phone, you would have probably said no you don’t. Yet, if I call the remote an Apple Watch, you do need it. That need has been generated by clever marketeers who, instead of calling it an ‘iPhone remote’, called it an Apple Watch, thereby linking the device to the latest technological development, wearable technology. After all, a watch was the first wearable technological device invented. The Apple Watch, thanks to electronics, has taken it to the technological limit of our time.
In the final paragraph you say that it has ‘acquired a bigger and bigger role in my life’. Yet, there are aspects of the watch that that you do not mention. For example, the stopwatch and timer apps. These functions are available and can contribute to your life. Perhaps, you use different Apps for these functions. This also poses the question, what other Apps could you use that you do not use. Would the 1Password be useful or have you yet to ‘get the habit’ of using that app? By not using all the Apps possible are you limiting how the Apple Watch affects your life? Do you choose the Apps based on your lifestyle rather than the usefulness of the App? In other words, you decided that the device would play a ‘bigger and bigger role in my life’ by utilising the Apps and features that you deemed useful.
[My thoughts: yes! That is so true: the watch is effectively a remote control for my phone; and yes, I use only a VERY narrow range of its features].
2. The machine knows better
In this section I was surprised by your thoughts about how the Uber driver uses the App to get you from A to B. You are aware I have a degree in Psychology so my viewpoint on this section may not be a surprise to you. I would postulate that being in an unknown city, you would feel that if the driver followed the given route, you are not being exploited or put in danger However, if the driver deviates then, to you, the risk of something bad increased and made you anxious. These are fair feelings to have when you are a tourist abroad. These must be strong feelings because they made you check on each of the three journeys.
Looking at it from the driver’s perspective, he relies on the technology for his living. However, the driver has one piece of knowledge that the technology has yet to learn. He has ‘local knowledge’. The driver may be aware of road works, traffic jams or other delays on the route and was examining ways of avoiding them. Or the driver knew the technology limitations and used his local knowledge to provide you with a better service. When I travel from Oxford to Bath, I ignore the satnav directions to go down the A420 towards Swindon to join the M4 and keep on travelling down the A34 to join the M4 at Newbury. The ETA on the satnav at Newbury is about the same or one to two minutes more than the original ETA stated in Oxford. My point is this, your drivers seem to be using the directions given as a guide rather than a set of rigid instructions that must be obeyed. I obtained the impression that the drivers were doing this as they went along, which they ideally should not have done. However, as they were using the technology with the aim to make better decisions, then humans should be encouraged to do that rather than blindly do what technology tells us. In your experience, three different humans at different times proved that the technology was as good as human decision making. Isn’t that re-assuring rather than worrying? From this perspective, the actions of the driver can be re-assuring and therefore the negative thoughts you had about trust would have been negated.
[My thoughts: yes, for sure my perception was coloured by the fact that I was in a foreign country. And because I am a woman sitting in a car with an unknown man. But… I had not thought about the fact that the driver also incurs a penalty for not following the directions. That was an interesting perspective].
I have to tell you that fighting against the ‘bubble’ is futile. As you know, I ran a small guest house which is listed on Expedia and Booking.com. The guest house does not have a ranking on either site because the search results presented to a user of those sites is based on the users search history and what they have clicked on before. Companies and organisations are tailoring their presentation of information so that people will continue to use their services. That is why Facebook no longer present posts in time order but in an order, we are likely to enjoy them. (I cannot find a citation for this!). In fact, this has been occurring for some time. Supermarkets use loyalty card information to send people coupons for products they would probably buy so they would visit their local store and also buy other items. I would say that the battle against the ‘bubble’ has been lost and was lost some time ago.
Your second point is very valid and people, I believe, do not know how tracking phones can be used to manipulate people. By tracking everyone in a city you could control traffic. For example, the authorities know when people leave a theatre or cinema. To reduce congestion when the film or play has finished, the authorities send the film and theatre goers a free voucher for a meal at a nearby restaurant. Some will take up this fortuitous offer and delay their journey by going to the restaurant to spend the voucher. Thereby easing the traffic situation at that time. This is a made up example, but it illustrates the point that peoples behaviour can be influenced by a government, council or other organisation to take actions that can help prevent a situation, in this example traffic jams, and make peoples quality of life appear better. Likewise, these same organisations and other not so nice ones such as terrorist, can use the same information to make people’s lives worse. Apart from China, some Arab countries are looking at ways to use GPS data to ‘control’ or affect the behaviour of people in their country. I suggest you raise your personal concern level from uneasy to scared.
Your third point about the interplay between location, language and geo-targeting made me think. In some ways this is related to the point above, because the GPS said you were in Germany, which determined the version of the podcast you received. It also highlights a weakness of certain devices and apps. They assume that the language you are using is based on your location rather than the preference set on the device or app. My wife is Chinese and she sets the Windows language to Chinese. This is very disconcerting for the English-speaking IT sub-contractor who remotely logs into her PC to sort out a PC issue. Given that people travel, use apps and devices in their native tongue, it shall not be beyond the capabilities of man to check the language setting rather than the location to determine which language version should be made available. As we both know, culture is also a big factor in advertisements (yes another citation is needed but I cannot find one) so I wonder if the hotel advert you heard in German is or would be different if the advert was in Mandarin. I think there are some student projects within this topic.
Looking at the evidence above, I would suggest that your reflections are of a very personal nature, especially the second section about Uber drivers. Also, your reflections are based on how you have configured the technology for your lifestyle. In some instances, you changed your behaviour from using other technologies, such as telling the time from clocks on appliances, and decided to use the Apple Watch as they best way to tell the time. In other areas such as health, movement and fitness you adopted new behaviours to maximise the ability of the technological device. You have, sometimes deliberately, at other times unintentionally, not used functions or apps that the device can offer. It may because you have tailored the device to your needs and therefore do not require these extra apps. By personalising the device you trust it better than the local human you are interacting with when abroad. The geo-location abilities of the device make you feel uneasy, which is good. It means that the greater the number of people who realise that they can be or are being manipulated, then the better society becomes as it is made of more individuals rather than a group of people behaving in the same way. The most interesting, surprising and curious thing about the blog post is just how personal it was to you. Using the words ‘Some reflections’, I expected the ‘some’ to be academic rather than personal. If you want, I am happy for this to be posted on your blog, please edit it as you see fit. It could be called “Someone else’s reflections on my use of technology”. I would like to finish by thanking you for writing such a thought provoking, entertaining and well written blog post.
[My thoughts: I am the one who is thankful, of course. I am grateful for the time and attention, and the motivation that readers offer to me. And, in this case, I am particularly grateful for the generosity of this feedback].
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3 thoughts on “Someone else’s reflections on my use of technology”
I see echoes here of some of the findings of an ethnography I wrote some time ago. I studied my own engagement with social media over a period of 8 years. As has happened in this blog, a ‘critical friend’ commented on an early draft and the following emerged from that dialectic: “…there was a co-evolutionary dynamic in play. As a user, the technology changed the way I conceptualised myself and engaged with the outside world, just as, in parallel, I and other users were responsible for changing the very nature of the technological offering.” We are lucky to have selfless ‘critical friends’ that can provide this sort of encouragement. If all we could rely on was the feedback from reviewers we would probably just give up and go and do something else.
Yes, we are very lucky, indeed. And this particular friend does not hesitate to call me out when I am being rushed in my thinking, which is even more valuable.