Since the early days of computing, ever shrinking computers have been on a collision course towards human integration. The distinction between what is physical and digital continues to dissolve.
Early stage prototypes are already allowing neurological signals to manipulate the physical world directly via the integration of molecular and atomic level components. Think it and it simply happens. The implications are profound.
Not only are people and things being connected to the Internet, but previous “networks of one” are being splintered into their own thriving digital ecosystems. This pattern, started long ago, continues to propagate.
To make this a bit more tangible, consider the following: Mainframes used to contain the digital footprint of entire countries, then entire organizations. That was subsequently splintered into a network of interconnected desktops within one physical location. These networks then began to span geographies. Corporate desktops were further splintered into home computers, and then portable laptops that went everywhere with its human companion. Fast forward a decade, and these portable computers have multiplied. I observed a friend of mine the other day had 6 devices on his person; 2 phones, 2 tablets, a fitbit, and a laptop. But, even those devices are being “splintered” down even further. The numbers of sensors (tiny little computers) embedded within today’s mobile devices are exploding.
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It is not too far fetched to imagine that one day, the very core building blocks of the human body will be networked. In fact, it’s already being simulated. Millions of connected atomic and molecular nodes will be doing what they’ve always done, but with a corresponding digital footprint. Their networkability will open up new frontiers that most of us can’t even grasp today.
MORE READING: When our Neurons are Connected to the Net
We are witnessing the digitization of everything happening around us, and to us, which is unleashing unprecedented complexity and opportunity.
The idea of combining the words “intimacy” and “computer” likely never crossed the minds of most people in the 1960s, with the exception of the vision and work of people like Vannevar Bush, J.C.R. Licklider, and Douglas Engelbart but today we hear studies claim that 57% of women would rather give up sex than their smartphone. An experiment that removed smartphones from college students with the intention of reducing distraction, actually introduced more distraction because of the anxiety that the students experienced being “disconnected”.
The coming widespread adoption of wearables will take intimacy and personalization one step further on the journey towards deeper digital/physical integration.
Participation in digital networks used to be something we did in its own silo – its own space, largely detached from the physical world. In the near future, a fundamental shift will happen. Most of our lives will happen on digital networks by default, each of us generating terabytes of data, and leaving a permanently recorded, constantly evolving trail of digital exhaust in our wake.
But there’s still a ways to go. And next step ahead of us on the human journey is the transition from mobile devices (one day we’ll laugh at this archaic moniker) to wearables.
But are the wearables of today even… wearable?
The simple fact is that we’ve been talking about wearable technology for quite some time. The smartwatch actually dates back all the way to the 1980’s. IBM displayed a smartwatch prototype in 2000, and Microsoft released one in 2004. Here we are, decades later and the most innovative consumer device manufacturer in modern history is just now launching version 1.0 to the public.
Early experiments have taught us that taking a computer and placing it on our body has been met with a unique new type of resistance to the next wave of technology. Google Glass provides a great example. Talking to someone wearing Glass is awkward and uncomfortable. Smart watches have opened themselves up to mockery and satire because who really wants a mini-smartphone slapped on their wrist? And what is the real added benefit?
That said, the promise of augmenting our capabilities, and rendering previously unquantifiable complexity with unprecedented simplicity has much of the developed world excited.
Where and how wearables are gaining traction
New use cases are emerging daily.
Early adoption in wearables has largely been in four primary areas (with the some better known areas associated);
1. Enterprise and Industrial
- Field Service
- Warehouse Automation
- Sensor based tracking
- Augmented Reality
- Elderly Care
- Augmented Reality
- Health and Fitness
Consumer based successes have largely centered around health and fitness and the growing “quantified self” movement.
But, a key difference on the consumer front is that wearables are not just being leveraged for their utility. They are increasingly becoming an expression of our identity. Just as clothes, hairstyles, jewelry are expressions of ourselves; the technology we adorn our bodies with may ultimately be a significant contributor to our own “personal brand”.
Apple repeatedly highlighted this reality in their recent unveiling of the coming AppleWatch. They invested significant sums of money in designing for fashion, as well as function.
But, they are not alone in their efforts. Initially crude and functional wearable devices are morphing into cool and futuristic fashion accessories that attempt to stand on their own, while simultaneously integrating new technological capabilities. Consider the recently released smart polo shirt from Ralph Lauren, or the pending new jewelry line, Mica.
Earlier this week, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN, I watched Will.i.am control the entire sound performance of his concert with a new wearable bracelet that he is set to announce and release to the public in mid-October.
As higher processing power, and access to more powerful and ubiquitous broadband becomes wrapped in smaller and more innovative and fashionable form factors, the data explosion we’ve seen in recent years will continue to accelerate exponentially.
The ultimate adoption of wearable computing by the mainstream will continue to evolve our world towards a more connected, more intelligent, and more complex environment. Some changes will be subtle and others will be transformative.
In the next post, we’ll explore the implications and considerations for each of these groups with extra attention focused on the implications on CIOs and the Enterprise.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR >
For more than a decade, Brian Vellmure has been helping organizations increase profitability through customer focused initiatives. He is an accomplished business leader, management consultant, and award winning and syndicated blogger. He is often referred to as a Social CRM and Social Business thought leader & pioneer. Specializing in strategy, process improvement, & technology selection, Brian works with executive and senior management teams to create competitive advantage through leading sustainable and disruptive innovation initiatives. A specialist in enhancing customer experience, acquisition & retention efforts, he is a sought after speaker, writer, and guest contributor to several emerging media properties, and often acts as an expert advisor for software and technology vendors. During the mid to late 90’s, Brian served as a business analyst, project manager, and group consulting manager for an International firm leading several multi-national ERP implementations for mid-sized companies. In 2001, he focused his attention on the front office, selling and/or leading more than a dozen CRM, Web, and E-Commerce initiatives over the next 3 years. In addition, he’s led a division as Vice President of an equipment finance company, been the top sales executive for a major CRM Vendor, and as a consultant has regularly spearheaded value-creation initiatives for small, mid-sized, and multi-bilion dollar enterprises. Brian was a founding board member of International Princess Project (http://www.intlprincess.org), a non-profit organization that establishes self-sustaining business enterprises in partnership with indigenous organizations that provide for physical, emotional and spiritual needs of women formerly enslaved in prostitution, while actively advocating for women enslaved in prostitution around the world.