Last night on twitter Jonathan Stark posed a riddle about phones:
TWITTER QUIZ: What is the defining feature of telephones?— Jonathan Stark (@jonathanstark) March 10, 2015
It was a bit late in my timezone but I had a guess:
@jonathanstark Microphone and speaker placed four-ish inches apart from each other?— Orde Saunders (@decadecity) March 11, 2015
@decadecity Nice try! But walkie talkie has that. Guess again :)— Jonathan Stark (@jonathanstark) March 11, 2015
My next guess was mostly based on meta knowledge from listening to Jonathan and Kelli's Nitch podcast where phone and SMS being tied to identity is a theme in their discussions:
@jonathanstark Phone number for addressing? Calls and SMS are currently the only non-shared state between my devices but VoIP can blur that.— Orde Saunders (@decadecity) March 11, 2015
. @decadecity you're getting warm with the phone number guess— Jonathan Stark (@jonathanstark) March 11, 2015
At that point I had to call it a night but checking twitter again this morning I picked up Jonathan's answer to his own riddle:
The defining feature of the telephone is that it is the only always-on, mass market device that had an interrupt mechanism— Jonathan Stark (@jonathanstark) March 11, 2015
I probably should have guessed this if it wasn't past midnight in my time zone: interruptions from the phone is another theme on the podcast. He then explained in more detail before moving on to smart watches:
This is why smartwatches are going to become popular. A wristwatch does not have an interrupt in it's core DNA.— Jonathan Stark (@jonathanstark) March 11, 2015
Smartwatches allow you to stay connected without the interruptions.— Jonathan Stark (@jonathanstark) March 11, 2015
This is unquestionably the main reason I've kept using a smart watch - it completely changed my relationship with my mobile and even my choice of device.
However, the social contract around these unobtrusive interruptions is still not clear. If someone's phone starts ringing people will create a gap to allow one to answer, this interruption sequence is well understood. However, one thing I have found with a smart watch - and actually encountered yesterday - is that if I get a phone call I am notified by my watch vibrating. I'm aware of this but others around me typically aren't so I have to progressively start introducing the fact that I'm being phoned and have to create the gap in which to answer the phone.
The sequence typically goes something like this:
- My watch starts vibrating: more than two pulses means it's a phone call not a notification.
- I check my watch to see who it is. If I'm not going to answer I reject the call from the watch.
- If I'm going to answer then I interrupt the conversation saying something along the lines of: "Sorry, you'll have to excuse me but I'm getting a phone call."
- I then reach for my phone. Without the notification on the watch this would normally be step one and - with my phone on silent with no vibrate - without my verbal cue nobody else knows I'm being phoned, I could just be looking at my phone to check the time.
- Even at this point people still aren't really cued to be expecting me to be in the process of taking a phone call, it looks more like I'm just checking my phone so I'll say: "I'm very sorry but I really have to take this phone call." Again, at this point I already know I'm going to answer, I'm not just checking to see who it is before deciding if I answer.
- I'll then answer the phone but I can tell that, even with my verbal cues, people often haven't been been fully expecting this.
Whilst not completely novel, this interaction model that derives from the nature of smart watches is still different enough to be remarkable and supports Jonathan's point.
The situation is different around people who are used to smart watches being in their environment. I've been using one for some time and a couple of my friends also have smart watches so in that social situation the interactions evolve to take advantage of the new context. One of my favourites is passing notes whilst role playing:
If your character isn't currently involved in the narrative it's not out of place to be looking something up on your phone. However, if the GM has a smart watch it's easy to send them a message which they can check without breaking out of flow to look at their phone and consequently this is something we use to add an extra element to the game.
In my experience it is this frictionless form of notification without interruption that is the defining advantage of the smart watch over the phone - it's not just a phone on your wrist.