October 23, 2013

I Never Sync My Jawbone Up

But I wear it every day.

I recently joined the Quantified Self (QS) bandwagon and purchased a Jawbone Up. I wear the step and sleep-tracking wristband everywhere but I didn’t purchase the Up just to measure my activity and sleep patterns - I’m already a self-quantified, calorie-counting maniac. In fact, I haven’t synced the device in weeks. Admittedly, I purchased the wristband largely as a fashion statement.

The Jawbone Up and similar QS wristbands send a message as do apparel, jewelry, and other artifacts in fashion. Fashion tells a story and coveys an image.

  • Gucci handbags communicate class and wealth.
  • Kid Robot t-shirts communicate playfulness and an enthusiasm for urban culture.
  • Jawbone Up’s communicate tech-savviness and physical fitness.

The brands we associate with are a personification of ourselves, a vehicle for branding and establishing an association with others.

Wearables and Technology Ubiquity

Technology products were once confined to the home, parked on an entertainment center or work desk. As computers and phones went mobile, technology left our four walls to become part of our persona and a way to communicate our identity. In middle school, I ogled at my friends’ slim Motorola Razr with envy. It wasn’t “Feature X” or its fast processor that I desired - I had never even used one before. I wanted a Razr because it was damn sexy.

Fast-forward and you’ll find technology and people are more connected than ever. You see people plant their mobile device of choice on the table at restaurants, similar to a patriot’s proclamation as he pierces his country’s flag into the ground. Busy students and entrepreneurs litter cafes with their MacBook, Thinkpad, and other computing devices, signaling affiliation. As wearables increase in popularity, technology affiliation becomes even more exposed, strapped on our wrist or resting on our nose. More than ever, technology is an accessory, a conscious representation of how we want to be perceived. The first Fitbit device was worn on the belt buckle, hidden at the hip. There’s a reason its latest iteration, the Flex, is worn on the wrist. People want these devices to be seen. They want technology to represents them.

Technology Tribes

Technology forms an association with likeminded people, a head-nod to people in-the-know. The Jawbone Up and other QS wearables do more than portray an image. They establish a bond with other early adopters and QS enthusiasts. By sporting an Up, you become a part of the tribe, forming a social connection. For many, the Quantified Self movement isn’t really about quantification.

Since I purchased the Up, several people have asked about the wristband. It’s a conversation-starter. The accessory has led to debate about wearable technology, postulation on the QS movement, and storytelling about behavior modification. And through these discussions, social connections are formed through the brand.

Long gone are the days when technology companies could compete solely on features and specs. As wearable computing becomes commonplace - a personification of ourselves - fashion and branding will become increasingly important, a necessity to compete and remain relevant. Technology companies that build sexy, fashionable products will have the upper hand.

Interested in startups and product design? You should signup for my email list to receive a free copy of the upcoming book, Hooked, written by habit design researcher, Nir Eyal in collaboration with myself. Also, connect with me on Twitter (@rrhoover).

More Writing by Ryan