How my smartwatch stopped me from being the friend who never texts back
A month or two ago, if you texted me and received no reply, it was probably because I left you on read. It's never been intentional, mind you, because I typically take offense when I don't get a response on my own. It's my lifestyle. I'm a workaholic, and I barely have time for myself, let alone conversations with others. But all that seems to have changed within the last few weeks, as using an Apple Watch has basically eliminated me leaving friends and family hanging. And I'm really liking where things are going for me from there.
I wasn't planning on making this big "lifestyle change," though. I purchased my watch only a few weeks ahead of Apple's big reveal on September 10, where the Apple Watch Series 5 made its debut (yeah, yeah, I know). It had been something of an impulse buy. I had seen others wearing them around, stylish and utilitarian, but it wasn't until I saw the Sport Loop that I was interested. You mean I could get a colorful band that a) wasn't rubber and b) came in a wide variety of colors? I ordered a custom band and picked up a new watch, then waited for my new "friend" to arrive.
From the first day, I was more than enamored, as I realized the watch had completely transformed since my first brush with the very first release. As it turns out, wearable tech is more than just the gimmick I thought it to be. As a tech writer myself, I know all about the features an Apple Watch or even a Fitbit employs to help users track important health information or remain productive through the day. One in 10 adults were projected to have a smart watch in 2019 according to research firm eMarketer, which meant around 28.7 million Americans 18 and older would have one in active use. It's possible I've helped that number grow. I've touted them in buying guides and recommended the tech to family and friends for those reasons. But beyond dabbling briefly with the Apple Watch Series 1, which I quickly abandoned due to the uncomfortable wrist strap and its perceived lack of utility, I didn't see much use for them at first.
I don't want to use my watch for health concerns. I'm already conscious enough of my shortcomings that I don't want my watch reminding me when I should get up and move around, nor how fast my heart's beating when I'm already dealing with anxiety. That just makes it worse, from my experience. I've got an entire set of other ways I deal with those things.
But I am extremely busy. I have a tight schedule, sometimes so packed that taking an extra five or ten minutes to continue a conversation with friends who want to have an extended talk session can push me out of my productivity zone almost immediately. And when I'm finally out in the world (and not cooped up in my house working, which is an everyday thing), taking my phone out of my bag to reply to rapid-fire texts isn't much of an option.
I'm still pretty self-conscious about talking into my wrist. Voice recognition simply isn't as polished as it could be. Adding verbal punctuation to my texts (I can't stand writing or texting in lowercase) can be a pain, but it's something I've learned to do as a reflex. What's more, I can be as verbose as I want to be, even in a more hushed tone. No one can really hear me, and even If they can, I'm sure they aren't interested in my telling my fiancé JC Penney has a T-shirt he'd like or my friend that, yes, I do want to get a manicure with her. And even if people can hear me, that's nothing compared to the freedom and versatility texting straight from my watch gives me. I'd vastly prefer being able to text as normal, but pre-written responses will have to do unless I want to pull my phone in and out of my bag.
Thankfully, that's exactly what I've been able to avoid. Grocery shopping is no longer a game of fumbling around with my phone in one hand while I select foods for the week and asking my fiancé what he wants to eat for dinner. It's making a quick call from my wrist to ask if he wants a certain brand of cheese or juice, and I'm done. It's replying to my parents asking if I want them to pick a sweet deal up for me at the flea market with a quick button press on my wrist. Most importantly, it's the freedom to quickly be alerted to emergencies via Slack, text, or email if I'm needed for some sort of work if I have to step out during the week during work hours. While I try not to remain anchored to work, it's sometimes an unfortunate reality of working remotely that I'm "on call," so I try to be as available as possible.
Some might say just disconnecting and doing less work or online activities in general would benefit me more than strapping yet another screen to my wrist when I already look at so many during the day. After all, we already know that smartphone usage been linked to a decline in emotional satisfaction. A 2018 study published in the journal Emotion by psychologists from the University of Georgia and San Diego State University studied mood data from around 1.1 million teens. Their findings suggested that there had been a sharp decline in happiness that had begun to go down as personal smartphone use went up. It's easy to understand the correlation: social media can be downright depressing. Staying connected to the news 24/7 can bring anyone down. But wearing the Apple Watch ironically keeps me off of my phone and more "plugged in" to what matters — and helps me avoid those ill effects.
My strategy is to keep my phone on and connected, but buried in a purse in a zip wallet. This way it's safely tucked away, out of reach for anyone potentially looking to rifle through my bag (the tote I usually carry is still slightly ajar even with a locking mechanism in the middle). I'm less apt to grab my phone and scroll through it idly while I should be doing something else because I don't want to keep digging through all my stuff just to pull out my phone.
This is all because I'm too lazy to keep dragging my phone out of my bag (and paranoid about others' intentions), and it's far more convenient and less awkward to just do everything from my wrist – but only the bare essentials. I can check my calls, emails, and text messages, but everything else is really such a hassle with the small screen I don't care to. There's no watching YouTube videos, wasting time on Twitter, or shopping online because I couldn't see it all if I wanted to. Thus, the answer is to live in the present without feeling the need to bury my head in my phone screen. And it feels leagues better.
I'm not sure why I didn't think about this before, or arrive at a similar solution, but I'm glad I finally have. I can't say whether or not reducing the amount of things I can do with a smartphone-like device is going to be helpful to anyone else, but I can definitely say one thing: I am getting more done, staying in touch, and sharing more of the little details than I normally would otherwise. Perhaps I should keep my usage in check, though – I don't want to fall into being one of those "watch people," and start staring at my wrist instead of my phone. All I can say right now though is that my friends and family and I are getting closer than ever – and that $350 I parted with for the watch was indeed money well spent.