THE BLOG

Watching Apple Take Our Attention Away

10/03/2015 15:23 GMT | Updated 10/05/2015 10:59 BST

Tap, tap...Tap, tap tap. Only me - using haptic feedback to get your attention. What, you were busy? Sorry, I didn't know that, but now I've got your attention you may as well read on, as what I'm going to tell you may be important, or it may be spam. You won't know unless you look.

If the whole haptic thing has passed you by, let me explain. It's all about devices giving us physical feedback to add a new layer of interaction. Our mobiles have been doing it for years - buzzing angrily on the bedside cabinet at 2am when a spam email arrives. But Apple's new Watch (note to the naming team in Apple - try harder) is moving this up a level, with gentle taps on your wrist to alert you to messages and other activity, using customised sequences.

I love Apple products - at last count the family owns a dozen of them - but this new foray into wearable technology is, for me, a big problem. For years I've been battling with handheld devices for attention whilst working with colleagues and clients. For the most part it's very blatant, with some people being apologetic and mumbling an 'I need to watch out for something...' coverall and others just assuming that regular periods of bird-like tapping at their device is fine in polite corporate company.

At least, with these Blatant Inattentives I know they are doing it, and can manage accordingly - pause for a moment, ask if they'd like a few minutes, glare... do the same thing myself. But the Watch is going to create a whole new group for me: Surreptitious Inattentives.

This new breed of attention-spans-of-a-butterfly are going to soon be perfecting the art of casually glancing at and fiddling with their Watch. The whole marketing pitch of the wearable tech is that you don't have to get your phone out to check email or texts - it's one big sell for permission to not pay attention, and our business culture will suffer from it.

One of the great gifts you can give in business is focused attention, actively listening, absorbing what's going on, what the person is saying, what they mean and why. Having yet another distraction in the mix is not helpful, and will only result in poorer communication.

And it's not Apple's, or the Watch's fault. Technology use is at the discretion of the user - it's my fault if I choose to use it inappropriately. And we do, we use technology inappropriately all the time, leading to the need for corporate mandates around laptop/tablet/phone use in meetings, for quiet zones on trains, for technology in theatres that blocks mobile signals.

We are bad children when it comes to these devices, and the Watch is going to make it far easier for us to misbehave. It'll be bad news for business, and even worse news for road users. It will be interesting to see how we cope with this next attention paradigm shift.