Wearable Technology: Guiding the Path to Greater Self-Awareness

This summer at Fuzzy Math, we are exploring the impact and interactions of wearable technology as each member of our team participates in a three-month-long project to explore the ins and outs of these devices. This endeavor will be broken down into three phases: 1) first impressions and getting to know one’s wearable device, 2) empirical evidence and applications for it, and 3) design principles for each category of devices. This summer-long study is comprised of three separate category groups for the sake of tracking and analyzing data and findings. These groups are activity, awareness, and sleep. For more information, read our introductory post on this project and follow @fuzzymath on twitter, hashtag: #fmwearable.

Awareness Group Devices and Goals

Today it seems that most people spend more time in front of computers and internet-ready devices than anything else. When seeking knowledge years ago, we’d have to turn to a physical solution that was more difficult to access and took a longer amount of time to find: books. Today, knowledge is at our fingertips, allowing the world of information and communication to move faster than ever before. Moore’s law tells us this will continue to double over time. This phenomenon has surged an endless area of innovation, but at what cost? In the Awareness group, we believe some of these changes have caused us to be less aware. As a result, our stress levels have risen, our short term memory has been effected, and we’ve lost time dedicated to reflect and appreciate. As a group, we wanted to measure these attributes and determine if our group hypothesis had any veracity.

We selected devices designed to help people become more aware of their surroundings and their overall health. Most wearable devices have awareness built into their purpose, but we believed the goal of our devices centered solely around being more aware of our physical and mental states. Riley, for one, was very focused on learning about insights that she does not process during the day due to being focused on other tasks. She needed a wearable that would be inconspicuous, accurate, durable, and accessible. After searching high and low, Riley found the narrative clip. The clip is advertised as a life blogging tool, is small and comes in many colors, takes one photo every 30 seconds, and it allows people to take photos on command. All of these qualities pointed to better awareness, so Riley instantly knew it was the device for her. Two of the other Awareness group members selected the Spire, and one selected the Fitbit Charge HR.

Nicole, one of the group members who chose the Spire wearable, did so to help manage her anxiety and increase her awareness of the physiological impact that moments of tension and stress can have on her body. It lured her in with its claim: “By measuring your breathing patterns throughout the day, it can notify you when you’re tense, guide you to greater calm, and help you discover what makes you focused.” Spire appealed to Nicole not only because it tracks moments of calm and focus throughout the day, but it also includes breathing exercises that help to draw attention to breath and ultimately help reduce moments of tension. Spire increases users’ awareness of their environment as well as their physiological responses to their environment. The Spire device uses sensors to detect respiratory movements and streams that data in real time to a smartphone application. The data is translated into four measures: tension, calm, focus, and activity. In effect, Spire can help users identify contributing factors to moments of tension, focus, or calm, such as patterns of behavior or external factors in their environment.

Our last group member selected the Fitbit Charge HR. She chose this to track her heart rate with hopes of determining moments of stress. All four participants set out with their devices to seek more overall awareness. Awareness takes many forms, from appreciation and mindfulness to perception and understanding.

As we began our experiment, we quickly learned that stress and awareness are very difficult to measure. During use, we noticed that some of our results were heavily biased by other contributing factors. We did, however share a few common experiences and insights that led us to our first guiding principle:

Teaser Principle:

Enhance Without Distracting [Make it Unobtrusive]

Wearable devices should complement the lifestyle and image of the user, while prioritizing comfort and effectiveness. The aesthetic appearance should enhance the experience of wearing the device in addition to its being unobtrusive. Finally, the wearable device should not demand the attention or create otherwise unwanted distractions.

In conclusion

It was difficult enough to garner accurate, unbiased results, but being distracted by the device made the task even more complicated. Over the course of the summer, we gathered information that loosely correlated to stress and mindfulness. The real questions were the following: Did we learn what causes our stress? Did our data improve our short term memory? Were we able to reflect and become more mindful? Well, each team member had a different answer to these questions. Even though we didn’t come to a group consensus on our hypothesis, we did develop a set of guiding principles used to design a wearable built to create more awareness and track stress and reflection. Regardless of our results, the experience in and of itself became a tactic for our group to be more aware holistically. And that made our summer quite memorable and an event worth reflection.

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