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The Evolution of Wearables

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright May 2016


In the 2010's wearables are devices that you can put on your body that monitor bodily functions such as blood pressure, breathing and motion. They are of interest mostly to exercise and good health enthusiasts, but are also useful in a few health care applications.

This is just the beginning.

I envision the range of tasks wearables can be used for as growing enormously as technological improvements let wearables measure many more different bodily functions, and not much later, control them.

This change in what wearables can do between now and the 2050's is the topic of this essay.

Early Stage Capabilities

The early wearables will be bulky and concerned mostly with monitoring. The variety of what is monitored will grow steadily with time. Big breakthroughs will happen when parts of the monitoring system can be inserted into the body on a long-term basis. If they are just skin-deep this makes blood monitoring much easier and more versatile. If they can be lodged in organs that are deeper in the body then those organs can be monitored, both with more precision and more versatility.

Update: This 5 Oct 17 WSJ article, The New Workout Secret: Clothing Sensors That Up Your Game by Lucy Danziger, describes how current-generation wearables are influencing exercising.

From the article, "I looked down at my iPhone’s Nadi X app, which pairs via Bluetooth to the pants. The app, designed to teach you yoga poses or guide you through a flow, suggested that the gentle zapping meant I needed to ground my heels and push my tush back and up—something patient instructors have told me without resorting to tickling my ankles."

Later Stage Capabilities

The decisive later stage capability is adding adjusting internal conditions to simply monitoring them. As with the monitoring, this will start with a few simple items, then get more diverse and subtle as understanding and technology improve. An example of adjusting that is likely to be implemented in the early adjusting stages would be controlling blood sugar levels in diabetics.

What difference will wearables make?

We have talked about what wearables can do. Now let's look at how they will change our lifestyles.

Commodity uses

The commodity uses are going to be helping health and maintaining better awareness of the body's condition in general. With time what is monitored is going to get more varied and more nuanced. This will make keeping good health easier and easier. There will be fewer surprises, fewer scary crises.

It will also lead to smart nagging and shaming. This will evolve from the general-style of nagging and shaming that is already routinely engaged in by health insurance companies of the 2010's -- they send out lots of letters and robocalls about good health rituals a customer should be engaging in.

With wearables the nagging and shaming can get much more directed, specific and real time. An example: you are sitting at a restaurant with a hot date, and while you are gazing into those dreamy eyes across the table, you are getting a hint through your internal communication system, "If you eat that second helping of kale, you'll be three more pounds overweight and it will take two days of jogging to work it off."

Surprise uses

Recreational Mind Altering

One of the big surprise uses for advanced wearables is going to be mind altering. The more wearables can adjust hormones and the involuntary nervous system signals the more they can adjust emotions. If you see something scary, but don't get a surge of adrenalin because your wearables are suppressing it, will you feel scared?

Here is a more socially significant example: A person gets drunk because alcohol is affecting the brain. If a wearable can affect the brain in a similar way, it can get a person drunk too.

The big difference between wearables and chemicals is that ultimately -- when they get advanced -- wearables can change their effects a lot faster and be a lot more wide-ranging and subtle in their effects. If wearables are causing the drunkenness a person can sober up in minutes, not hours. And how they feel drunk can be adjusted -- it can have flavors.

As an example, a college student at a raucous frat party can be drinking water and getting ploughed out their mind as the night goes on. Whoopee!! Then when party-is-over time comes they can sober up in about ten minutes... while they are walking back to the dorm or being driven home in the driverless car they called for... and get in an hour of homework for the next day's classes before they call it a night. Quite a difference in lifestyle.

And this is just a first-generation use of mind altering. Here are some other possibilities.

Reducing fear of flying

An example of something 2nd generation and subtler would be helping people overcome their fear of flying. When most of the people who have to fly are no longer scared of flying, commercial air transportation systems can get a lot more practical and a lot less ritualized. The first high-profile change would be transforming the TSA away from the neoreligious ritual it is in the 2010's into something much lower profile and much more effective. Another change would be letting airports get smaller and more dispersed so there was a lot less congestion. In sum, losing this fear would let a lot of airport and airplane redesign happen. The change would be dramatic. Ultimately, getting on a commercial airline flight could become as simple as getting on a bus is in the 2010's.

Adding a Frugal Setting

A husband thinks a wife is spending too much on frivolous items. He asks her to dial up her "frugal" setting.

Reducing NIMBY

"No. Don't make that change to my neighborhood. It will kill my property value."

This is feeling NIMBY -- Not In My Backyard. It is a feeling that dramatically slows down changes in established residential areas. Related is the bad feeling that comes with forcing Grandma out of the apartment she has lived in for twenty years. The result is that once an urban neighborhood has been developed it can stay pretty much the same for as long as a century. This slows progress and creates "Rust Belt" cities. When NIMBY is strong neighborhoods get abandoned, not changed.

Part of what is happening here is fear, the fear that change in the neighborhood will be for the worse. If this fear can be diminished by wearables then lots more progress can come to established urban neighborhoods, and that will make a big and beneficial difference in how cities evolve.

Unleashing Nuclear Energy

Public opinion of embracing nuclear energy has been deeply and enduringly cursed by its first use: as an atomic bomb way back in 1945. The result has been widespread and deep fear of using nuclear power. A 2010's example of this enduring fear is the still-widespread concern about radiation coming from the Fukushima nuclear accident six years after it happened. If this instinctive fear can be diminished by wearables then nuclear energy can be used more widely -- widely in this context meaning widely as electrical power stations and widely in other applications. We may finally see lots of nuclear powered vehicles, and even artificial hearts.


In sum, as the wearables get into their third generation capabilities, all human activities that are partly emotion driven can be transformed -- gut feelings of all sorts can be controlled.

Quite a change.


As wearables develop and become widespread in society they are going to transform how people live in dramatic ways. Their commodity use is going to be improving health. Their first surprise use is going to be letting people indulge in high tech mind altering -- high tech getting drunk and high. Their second surprise use is going to be controlling emotions. They are going to let people control what they are fearful of, and what they love.

The world of wearables is going to be as different from 2010's living as Agricultural Age living is from Industrial Age living.

Lots of big changes are coming.



--The End--

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