Peter St. Onge

Can Apple Watch make us less rude?

TNS

Will the Apple Watch make us have better manners? That’s what Apple says.

The watch goes on sale Friday, just after midnight. It’s not the first smartwatch, but like most things Apple, it offers a revolutionary blend of technology and style. Or at least a revolutionary new way to show off.

It also comes with a promise: It will make us less rude.

That’s not how Apple is putting it, of course, because saying so would be acknowledging that gadgets lead to impoliteness in the first place.

But it’s true. Especially with smartphones. Studies show we pull them out more than 100 times a day, often in the middle of conversations, or sentences.

Now along come smartwatches to change all that. Instead of reaching for your pocket at the buzz of a text or notification, you can cooly glance down at your wrist.

Except isn’t that just exchanging one rude gesture for another?

The watch glance might even be a deeper diss than the smartphone glance. Looking at your wrist is the universal signal for “Are we done yet?” It says there’s someplace I’d rather be, something more important out there than you.

Can the Apple Watch – or any wearable technology – change that?

There’s precedent. Sit in on many business meetings now, and one of the first things you’ll see is everyone pulling out their phones and placing them on the table.

A decade ago, that would have furrowed most eyebrows in the room. Today, it’s an acknowledgment of the information flow all of us have to wade through each day.

Or maybe it’s still rude – just less so because everyone’s doing it. Technology can wear politeness down like that. It makes something so commonplace that it becomes acceptable, like what happens with iffy grammar.

But eventually, we all stumble together toward some kind of technological etiquette. Most of us now know that we should mute our phone’s notification chime in public. We know not to pull out that phone during funerals. Or family get-togethers. Or cuddling.

With watches, we’ll learn soon enough that no one wants to watch you shout a takeout order into your arm, at least once they get a good laugh out of it the first time.

Apple says there’s something different going on with Apple Watch – something more active. The watch lets you assign VIP status to some contacts, letting only a handful disturb your wrist. It also sends different vibrations for messages, emails and phone calls.

That means you can control how much of a distraction you want technology to be. You can decide to be more polite.

Technology has always given us this choice, though. With each device comes the challenge of thinking about how we’ll use it. With each gadget comes the question about whether it’ll bring us more than it will cost us.

Maybe this time, we’ll get the right answer.

Now that would be revolutionary.

Peter: pstonge@charlotteobserver.com; @saintorange.

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