The smartphone has had a dramatic impact on our society. It has disrupted existing industries and created entirely new ones. It continues to change our society in ways that are difficult to predict. The smartphone ushered in an era where people became totally connected all of the time. Overnight, our society adopted an immediate, personal form of communication that continues to disrupt our behaviour for better and for worse. Our society has been so thoroughly changed by the smartphone that we are now dependent upon it. Technologies as disruptive as the smartphone have the capacity to re-wire social values at the break-neck pace with which consumer electronics are mass-adopted.

Countless aspects of our professional and personal lives require a smartphone to facilitate, or even participate in. As we continue to adopt new, higher-frequency forms of communications, our social skills are being eroded as a consequence. In many ways, devices like the iPhone have made us ruder. Some would argue it’s making people dumber and more impulsive. While nobody seriously questions the benefits of a smartphone, I think it’s important to stop and consider how disruption of our social norms isn’t always a good thing.

Disruption to our social fabric is happening all around us, to us, and by us. Just ask yourself if you’re “guilty” of any of these smartphone faux-pas:

  • Texting while driving.
  • Texting while walking into things like people, objects, or the street.
  • Paying more attention to people online than those in your presence.
  • Amassing a photo library of everything you’ve ever eaten.
  • Commenting or sharing before your brain has time to catch up.
  • Ruining otherwise good photography through narcissism.
  • Interrupting whatever you’re doing with every notification.

I could go on and risk sounding like a curmudgeon, and I digress. I put the word guilty in quotations because what we define as rude, selfish, or anti-social changes to suit the technology we depend on. I’m not sure that guilt or embarrassment are emotions one might associate with anything on my list ten years from now. And that’s my point.

Our social values and norms are like a pendulum: every disruptive technology gives it a push, and with it, our social values and norms are disrupted too.

Eventually the pendulum swings back.

There’s a certain amount of social detriment that comes with each technological benefit. In 2006, nobody could predict how fast and how much the smartphone would change the way we work, play, and live. And guess what? The same goes for the smart watch revolution that’s just getting underway.

The smart watch will have a markedly different effect on the social pendulum than the smartphone. Rather than further disrupting norms, the smart watch will actually serve to preserve and protect some of the social practices the smartphone eroded. It’ll cause the pendulum to swing back, because it has the capacity help make people less rude and more polite.

Smartphones are disrupting our social norms because we crave information and attention. Look around and it’s obvious that we’re feeding an addiction. To varying degrees, we’re all hooked. Consequently our society has resigned itself to shortness, rudeness, and divided attention. So many people cling to their smartphones regardless of time, place, or social setting.

It’s why I can’t wait to wear an Apple Watch on my wrist.

An Apple Watch will allow me to receive notifications and messages as taps on my wrist. And I can send messages that way too. At a glance I can have all the notifications I care about, plus Siri, and dictation. It will allow me to set reminders, manage tasks and appointments, take notes, and exchange information discreetly. I’m betting I’ll be able to leave my phone in my pocket most of the time. Yet an Apple Watch will keep me more informed than I could be with an iPhone and, most importantly, in a way nobody else perceives. This is the kind of interaction with technology that will allow people to be better social citizens.

The Apple Watch will characterize the smart watch as a device that bridges the world of consumer electronics and fashion. It’s a device so personalized that its technology fades into the background and feels more like an extension of your body. When technology becomes this well-designed, it can get out of the way - literally. The Apple Watch will feed our need for information without sacrificing our manners.

I’m relieved that the latest disruptive technology will help correct some of the negative social disruption the smartphone has caused. Time and again, consumer electronics manufacturers - and consumers in general - take their cue from Apple. It's encouraging to see Apple touting politeness, subtlety, and discretion as features and benefits of its Next Big Thing.

Chris Marriott