This will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law is to be on your lips. –Exodus 13: 4
After much trailing in the press, and a huge, concerted effort by Apple to woo the fashion industry, today, finally, sees the actual unveiling of the Apple Watch.
For the Apple fan-boys it’s perhaps another exciting day to drool over the latest gadget. It may be a beautiful thing, but that’s not what makes it post-worthy. What should be of great interest to everyone is whether this product fires the starting gun for ‘wearable’ tech to go mainstream.
In a post-Snowden world, the advent of wearables is profoundly important. These new technologies promise to get upclose to our lives, skin-close in the case of the Apple Watch. They will monitor our heart-rates, take our temperatures and assess our calorific intake. Coupled with Snowden’s revelations about just how completely government agencies have pwned our data—tracking our every email, Skype conversation and financial transaction—with the addition of a wearable, this conquest of our bodies takes a further step towards complete over-throw.
The battle for ‘us’ is a genuine one. In a report in yesterday’s Observer, one analyst is quoted who sees Apple’s products serving user-needs for around a third of our day, but that that could rise to as much as 75%. Taking a waking day of 16 hours, that’s fully 12 hours where Apple is mediating our lives. 8 hours on an iMac at work, an hour on an iPhone, a couple of hours on Apple TV in the evening, perhaps a short commute in the mythic Apple Car to visit the shop where you buy your groceries with Apple Pay… In some ways, 75% seems conservative.
Apple Watch is only the latest step in this move, but it is the most radical. Jonny Ive has described this as “clearly the most personal product we’ve ever made.” It is the one that is getting closest to the person, the one where tech companies really do begin the first moves to try to dig right under our skins and burrow into our brains.
It may be a huge extrapolation, but in order to be able to reflect on our orientation towards these bedazzling new devices, it’s worth considering the end-game in all of this. Rather than 75%, the dream for the AI crowd is to go beyond 100%. The dream is a full take-over of the human being.
“Consciousness, we might say, is the first iOS; language the original wearable.”
Consciousness, we might say, is the first iOS; language the original wearable. It is the means by which we are able to navigate and perform tasks. It is the firmware of our humanity. Is this not what the NSA and GCHQ are really trying to burrow towards? In search of national security, in the hope of preventing all future-crime, in the attempt to mould us into well-behaved subjects these agencies are already monitoring our most intimate communications, and trying to predict our very thoughts and motives.
As I outlined elsewhere, the move to wearables is one that Apple and others have been forced to make in order to steal an economic march for ‘the next big thing’ and keep its stock high. Thus, what we see happening in the confluence of capitalist economics and politics is a drive to hack the human OS. Quietly cheered on by government security agencies, companies like Apple are moving to mediate as much of our time and thinking as possible.
As this beautiful BBC documentary shows, this has a very long history. In the industrial revolution, those who worked the land—or gleaned from it—were moved off and swept into factories. It was the wealthy industrial aristocrats who paid for huge clockwork automata to be installed in the highest point of each town: atop the church tower. These clocks brought everyone into line: everyone knew what time it was, and thus their time was no longer their own. With the mechanical figures that danced round on the striking of the hour, we saw not human-like machines, but the ideal of machine-like humans. The clock is regular, the figures well-behaved, efficient and punctual. The miniaturisation of this into the wrist-watch is the condensing of these ideals into a personal Tefillin, a wearable reminder we strap to ourselves to bind ourselves to an ideology.
The promise is that only by using just Apple products we will get the full seamless, connected and synced experience. Which is to say: the technology will quietly miniaturise even further and disappear. In orthodox Judaism, the Torah is bound to the head using a ‘tefillin,’ the point being that this binding of the ideology serves as signifier of its internalisation.
I’ve used an example from one faith, but the principle applies to any belief system or ideology. Wearables are like digital Tefillin: they are ideological devices shrinking from view from desk to hand to wrist until our very thoughts are immediately read and acted on by Siri.
The move to wearables is thus one that has parallels with religious practices across many different faiths (and certainly not just Judaism). The headline religious promise is always freedom, but the truth is that we will not be at liberty: we are always bound in some way. This is true for the religion of technology as it is for the technology of religion.
The real question that Apple Watch poses is who is watching who. My worry is that technology companies—and governments—have their eyes on a far greater prize: the theological work of re-writing of our consciousness, the updating of our core systems to ensure that nothing, nothing threatens the economic status quo that keeps the powerful powerful. It is what religions have always sought. It is what ISIS battle for, but the minds behind AI will achieve.
As to how we might resist… well you’ll probably have to wait for Getting High to find out…
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