I work in cyber security. Staying abreast of new technology puts food on my table. Flex! I had a Palm Pilot when everyone was rocking Nokia bricks. I remain the early adopter’s early adopter. But not with the first “smartwatches.” I wasn’t averse to the concept. They just weren’t smart enough . . .
Ye Olde smartwatches had small screens that displayed the time, tracked your health metrics and . . . that’s about it. As an overweight IT nerd, buying a smartwatch to monitor my heart rate during entirely theoretical workouts struck me as a bad investment. It wasn’t my jam. (Jam was my jam.)
Over the last few years, smartwatch technology has improved by silicon leaps and battery–powered bounds. Notifications, reminders, music, video, voice recognition, phone calls, accident detection – if there’s something a current generation smart watch can’t do it’s either not worth doing or illegal.
I resisted the lure of the device moving humans on the path towards brain-implanted internet. My phone could do everything a smartwatch could do with a bigger screen! Except, that is, for the smartwatch’s original remit: fitness tracking.
Seeking to shed post-pandemic pounds via bike rides, I figured knowing my heart rate would make my workouts more efficient. I bought a Fossil Gen 6.
First and foremost it looked great – a welcome relief from Apple’s “it’s hip to be rectangular” aesthetic. The Fossil consists of a simple circular black face surrounded by a crenelated bezel. Attached to a leather strap, the G6 doesn’t look entirely out of place next to my collection of analogue timewear.
One of my biggest complaints about smartwatches: the need for a proprietary phone app to connect to your watch. These phone-to-watch apps drain your battery faster than a vampire tapping a femoral artery.
Fossil’s smartwatch runs off a plain vanilla version of WearOS, Google’s Android-based smartwatch operating system. Their WearOS software connected seamlessly to my Android phone, only adding about three percent extra battery drain per day.
At first I only wore the Fossil while exercising. As the world returned to what people called normal, I started wearing the G6 as a ”daily beater.” I liked how it eliminated the need to extract my phone to catch-up on news or navigate my way to a steak. I also appreciated the increased situational awareness and lowered chances of getting mugged for my phone.
And then something unwelcome began to happen. Every time my smartwatch vibrated, I got a sudden rush of anxiety. Only later did I get the connection between my analogue past and my digital distress . .
In my younger days, I worked as an EMT at a fire station. Day or night, awake or asleep, when the alarm sounded I had exactly two minutes to get my gear, jump in the bus and hit the road. Within a few months, the alarm triggered a major adrenaline rush, the so-called “fight or flight” response (depending on the context, frequency and severity, also known as an anxiety attack).
Whenever my smartwatch buzzed, ba-bam! Same deal. Think Pavlov’s dogs getting a shock instead of food. My Fossil G6 smartwatch put out a constant barrage of notifications. It happened to me all the time.
Every notification felt like some kind of emergency. Sometimes I was compelled to pull out my phone to make a call or send a text. Other times I was forced to process information I didn’t want or need. If the message “don’t think of a pink elephant” had flashed-up, I would’ve had a pachyderm panic attack.
This smartwatch anxiety became a bigger and bigger problem. It started affecting my work performance, my interactions with my wife, my ability to relax and savor a rare whiskey. It was happening sub-rosa. As RF would say, it was a subconscious stimulus response pattern.
About a month ago, I recognized something was wrong. A week later, I narrowed it down to my buzz-buddy Fossil G6. I stopped wearing the smartwatch and returned to my analogue Citizens. They’d been sitting in a dark drawer so long enough the capacitors were toast, but at least they didn’t yell at me.
I still wear my Fossil G6 smartwatch when I’m exercising, but I’ve abandoned it as daily wristwear. I’m calmer. Less reactive. More contemplative. More strategic. I can and do get notifications on my phone, but I switch them off when I want to focus, show some manners or relax.
And now I’m slipping back into the warm embrace of automatic watches – machines that do one thing extremely well. To be fair, the Fossil G6 smartwatch also did one thing very well: it ruined my life. But not anymore.