Heads Up, Heads Down

The cyborg transition from mobile technology to wearable technology is actually a transition between heads-down and heads-up. It’s a question of whether the device demands your attention, or whether it’s willing to share.

Think of it like this – suppose you arrive early to a train, grab a coffee, and take a seat in the mezzanine. The woman sitting next to you looks familiar; you realize she’s a college friend you haven’t seen in years and start a conversation. You get caught up as you reminisce… and forget how long you’ve been talking.

You pull your phone out, unlock it, find your calendar… lose track of the conversation and listlessly ‘uh-huh’ along… and you still have fifteen minutes. You shut off your phone and awkwardly grind back into conversation, breaking it again ten minutes later as you check once more.

This is heads-down technology. No matter what you’re doing, your senses and mind get subsumed to perform the most minor task. You ignore the real to deal with the virtual. It’s rude and intrusive.

Now, rewind to that point where you lost track of time, except your phone is dead. Mid-conversation, you look over your friend’s shoulder and see a timetable on the wall. Your train leaves in fifteen minutes. You choke coffee when your friend tells you she’s marrying your old roommate.

Welcome back to heads-up. There’s no divide between the technology and the environment – they’re one and the same. Your attention can flow smoothly between and through them. Information is available while you can act on it. In the former example, heads-down technology pulled you away, but in the latter, it actually helped you stay in the moment.

We complain about people texting in restaurants, about being trapped in front of e-mail, about spending nights in front of the TV instead of with friends, about the general disconnection in today’s world. No one’s disconnected, they’re trapped by heads-down technology. We want our tech, but it demands our attention utterly.

This is the promise of wearable technology. It’s not a computer that chains you to a desk. It’s not a smartphone that connects you with far-away friends but alienates those nearby. You get the connection without being disconnected. You can live in the real and act in the virtual at the same time. You become mindful.

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