I’m less interested in accepting wearables given the right technological conditions as I am prospectively exhausted at the idea of dealing with that future’s existence. Just think about it. All those people staring at their watches in the parking structure, in the elevator. Tapping and stroking them, nearly spilling their coffee as they swivel their hands to spin the watch’s tiny crown control.
A whole new tech cliché convention: the zoned-out smartwatch early adopter staring into his outstretched arm, like an inert judoka at the ready. The inevitable thinkpieces turned non-fiction trade books about “wrist shrift” or some similarly punsome quip on the promise-and-danger of wearables.
The variegated buzzes of so many variable “haptic engine” vibrations, sending notices of emails arriving from a boss or a spammer or obscene images received from a Facebook friend. The terrible battery life Salmon worries about, and the necessity of purchasing a new $400 wristwatch every couple years, along with an equally expensive smartphone with which to mate it.
The emergence of a new, laborious media creation and consumption ecosystem built for glancing. The rise of the “glancicle,” which will replace the listicle. The PR emails and the B2B adverts and the business consulting conference promotions all asking, is your brand glance-aware?
These are mundane future grievances, but they are also likely ones. Unlike its competitor Google, with its eyeglass wearables and delivery drones and autonomous cars, Apple’s products are reasonable and expected—prosaic even, despite their refined design. Google’s future is truly science fictional, whereas Apple’s is mostly foreseeable. You can imagine wearing Apple Watch, in no small part because you remember thinking that you could imagine carrying Apple’s iPhone—and then you did, and now you always do.
Technology moves fast, but its speed now slows us down. A torpor has descended, the weariness of having lived this change before—or one similar enough, anyway—and all too recently. The future isn’t even here yet, and it’s already exhausted us in advance.
It’s a far cry from “future shock,” Alvin Toffler’s 1970 term for the post-industrial sensation that too much change happens in too short a time. Where once the loss of familiar institutions and practices produced a shock, now it produces something more tepid and routine. The planned obsolescence that coaxes us to replace our iPhone 5 with an iPhone 6 is no longer disquieting, but just expected. I have to have one has become Of course I’ll get one. The idea that we might willingly reinvent social practice around wristwatch computers less than a decade after reforming it for smartphones is no longer surprising, but predictable. We’ve heard this story before; we know how it ends.
Future shock is over. Apple Watch reveals that we suffer a new affliction: future ennui. The excitement of a novel technology (or anything, really) has been replaced—or at least dampened—by the anguish of knowing its future burden. This listlessness might yet prove even worse than blind boosterism or cynical naysaying. Where the trauma of future shock could at least light a fire under its sufferers, future ennui exudes the viscous languor of indifferent acceptance. It doesn’t really matter that the Apple Watch doesn’t seem necessary, no more than the iPhone once didn’t too. Increasingly, change is not revolutionary, to use a word Apple has made banal, but presaged.