Imagine having a personal assistant on your wrist to help you respond to messages, make calls, and track all types of fitness data. The newest wearable technology, like smartwatches, can do all of that and more. Wearable technology is advancing so rapidly that we are consumed by it. But being consumed can have its downsides for some people. Is wearable negatively affecting your health or helping your productivity?
What is wearable technology?
Wearable technology has been around for decades. In the 1970s, the calculator wristwatch and the Sony Walkman were launched. In the 1980s, the first digital hearing aids came on the market. In current times, major advances have been made in the wearable technology. From Bluetooth headphones to activity trackers to the Apple Watch to Snapchat Spectacles, wearable tech is wildly popular and keeps growing
One of the most popular forms of wearable technology is fitness trackers. Fitbit is one of the leading contributors to the wearable technology industry. In 2018 alone, the company sold over fourteen million activity trackers. Currently, Fitbit has several different devices on the market including a weight scale that graphs your week’s weight, wireless headphones, watch activity trackers, and even activity trackers designed specifically for children.
We at GKIS believe in smart screen use. To that end, we offer smart courses, like our Connected Family Course and our Screen Safety Toolkit, to help families dial in on the sweet spot of fun learning with a reasonable balance between virtual and screen-free activities. We recognize that screen technology can be a benefit in communication, learning, storage, and efficiency. It can be entertaining, helpful, and motivating. That is why we don’t encourage screen-free parenting. Instead, we believe that education, awareness, insight, and smart planning are behind best-used principles. The same applies to wearable tech. By considering these pros and cons, you’ll be best equipped to dial in on what’s right for you and better informed to facilitate smart management with your kids.
The Pros of Wearable Technology
One major positive aspect of wearable technology is health and fitness tracking.
Activity trackers continuously collect users’ health and fitness data including the number of steps taken, heart rate, calories burned, foods eaten, and sleep quality, among other things. Health data can be important for people managing health issues because the data generated can give you a better understanding of behavioral patterns and motivate you to stay on the right track toward health and fitness goals.
Documented data can also help you communicate more effectively with your doctor.
Personal safety is another positive aspect that wearable technology provides.
Many pieces of wearable technology automatically track GPS and can notify an emergency contact if it detects something that went wrong. For example, an Apple Watch can detect a hard impact and will notify emergency services in the area and then text the emergency contact. This is an important safety feature that has the possibility to save lives. While not all wearable technology has the ability, many of the activity trackers record the GPS of the device.
The Cons of Wearable Tech
One of the cons of wearable technology is product marketing, specifically persuasive upsells for further products.
Upsell refers to offering consumers additional products or upgrades after they’ve already made a purchase. Wearable technology upgrades include new and improved devices and access to additional services. For example, Fitbit offers a subscription service that offers daily insights about fitness habits, access to workout programs and coaching exercises, and a wellness report developed by doctors. The features of the subscription program seem intriguing, but the reality is that many people will stop using the features but continue to pay for the subscription.
Another negative aspect of wearable technology is compulsive data tracking or excessive checking and tracking of data.
Dr. Bennett says she has treated clients who suffer from behaviors characteristic of exercise addiction with wearable tech enabling unsafe patterns.* She elaborates that, not only can data tracking become too much of a priority over other life activities, but users can also fall into a compare and despair cycle. Rather than measuring feelings of satisfaction and well-being and promoting a healthy body image, some people are vulnerable to comparing their data to a “standard” data set that is general for the entire population. Seeing how their data compares to the standard may trigger chronic anxiety because the user is duped into thinking they are not performing as well as they should. Wearable tech users must seek expert medical advice instead of comparing their data to a standard that may not apply to their specific characteristics.
A third negative aspect of wearable technology is the notifications that cause a distraction to the user.
On most smartwatches, notifications appear for messages, emails, and health statistics. Receiving those notifications may cause the user to get distracted from what they were previously focusing on. When tasks are constantly getting interrupted by notifications, we lose our ability to prioritize tasks. We also burn more oxygenated glucose, our brain’s fuel, when we frequently toggle between tasks. This can leave users irritable, fatigued, and less productive overall.
We at GetKidsInternetSafe believe that interrupting notifications should only contain time-sensitive information that needs to be addressed immediately rather than ads urging you to worry, stress and spend more money. Dr. Bennett encourages batching notifications. This means setting certain windows of time to browse through all notifications at once instead of interrupting daily activity several times a day.
Thank you to GKIS intern, Makenzie Stancliff for alerting us about the risks of wearable technology. Check out the Screen Safety Toolkit for information on safety systems and apps and tips on building your own screen safety toolkit for your children.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
*Although exercise addiction is not officially recognized as a behavioral addiction by the American Psychiatric Association, many clinicians see impairment due to excessive fitness tracking and exercise that significantly interfere with healthy life functioning.
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 The Past, Present and Future of Wearable Technology. (2016, November 17). Retrieved from https://online.grace.edu/news/business/the-past-present-future-of-wearable-technology/.
 Liu, S. (2019, March 4). Fitbit device unit sales worldwide 2010-2018. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/472591/fitbit-devices-sold/.
 Richman, J. (2017, December 7). Exploring the Benefits of Wearable Technology. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/exploring-the-benefits-of_b_7910662?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZWNvc2lhLm9yZy8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAEU6EFwRETd4zrdrJJF_5rKbCcb9_lZrBoYaXaURZfGgJVSqG53JPOFOgfgNXpem_ubFy8t__u0YifvpfumGfIpXd2Pm_o9gnhS8kW5tyLXcYD3hELCcCfi0FzcRcXYAtfFccAyt4Js4ayiAgvQXcmGM7YdUBNCr7Xv3IFsIRTEX.
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 Spinks, R. (2018, October 8). One simple thing you can do for better mental health: turn off your push notifications. Retrieved from https://qz.com/quartzy/1416069/turn-off-push-notifications-for-better-mental-health/.