A Psychologist’s Apple Watch Review: Helpful or Harmful?

The results are in!  My week-long experiment with the Apple watch is complete. I’ve got so many thoughts and reflections to share.  If you didn’t see last week’s video, where I introduced my experiment, you can view that here.  It highlights why I took on this challenge in the first place, as well as my biggest concerns about how the watch impacts our ability to be mindful and present throughout the day.  After a week, I’ve got some awesome takeaways, including a few that might surprise you.  So click below to watch my Apple watch review, and hear my verdict on whether or not the Apple watch is helpful or harmful when it comes to mindfulness.

 

 

Like anything, there was an initial learning curve to wearing this high tech gadget.  At first, the watch felt pretty disruptive. But over time, I got more familiar with it.  I’d expected a pretty obnoxious alert, but the buzzing was more subtle than I expected.  That being said, after the first day, I disabled notifications for about 95% of my apps.  I don’t need a buzz on my watch to tell me the latest news story or that I got an Instagram like.  Too much, no thanks.

 

So, while the watch’s notifications weren’t quite as disruptive as I’d imagined, they still impacted my attention.  They took me out of the moment and what I was doing.  Even if you don’t realize it, or even if it’s just for a second, notifications pull our attention out of the moment.  And when it comes to mindfulness, that’s a problem.  Think about it.  As a human, your brain is wired to respond to stimuli.  That’s a survival mechanism.  You hear a twig snap behind you, your brain responds.  You hear someone call your name, your brain responds.  Your brain is designed to change it’s focus based on incoming stimuli.  So no matter how focused you think you are, you aren’t immune to this distraction.

 

Next, one of the biggest features people tout when talking about the Apple watch is all the tracking features.  The watch tracks all sorts of stuff, from heart rate to steps to when you stood last.  And while I get how beneficial tracking can be, I think most people overestimate how much they need or value this type of tracking.  Unless you have a chronic health condition that your watch helps you monitor, or unless you are seriously focusing on steps or exercise, I think the tracking features are a little overhyped, particularly when you consider some of the attentional concerns and mindfulness pitfalls.

 

A Psychologist’s Apple Watch Review: Helpful or Harmful? via Dr. Allison Answers

 

But before you think this review is all negative, I was shocked to find a major positive from my week-long experiment.  Over the course the week, I checked my phone way less than I normally do.  Typically, I check my phone in between clients or meetings, while I’m running errands, or if I’m out and about with friends.  I check for texts or to see if someone called. Or I might check my email if I’m waiting for a specific response from someone.  But with the watch, I barely picked up my phone.  Most communication notifications came through on my watch, allowing me to quickly check and clear them without ever picking up my phone.

 

And here’s why that’s important.  Have you ever checked your phone to look at a text, and then before you know it, your finger is hovering over Instagram?  Then it’s on to Twitter, Facebook, or the weather.  You picked up your phone to check one thing, and then 15 minutes later, you’re down the rabbit hole.  If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.  Cell phones are addicting.  They’re designed to be that way.  And apps like Facebook and Instagram, that involve infinite scrolling, are the worst.

 

Wearing the watch dramatically cut back on my mindless scrolling.  It was huge!  As I shared in my video, we spent a day in Wisconsin with friends, and I didn’t touch my phone once, except to take a photo.  This was a really surprising positive for me. And if it weren’t for the piece I’m about to mention, I probably could’ve been talked into getting an Apple watch.

 

After my week-long experiment with the Apple watch, my biggest issue was how the watch impacted my relationships and connections with other people.  Let me ask you something.  Have you ever been sitting with someone who’s wearing an Apple watch, and you see them quickly turn their wrist to check something?  In that moment, you realize you don’t quite have their full attention. And it’s hard not to feel impacted by that.

 

In the video, I shared about a few moments like this from my week.  And without sounding dramatic, these moments hurt my soul.  I immediately felt a subtle change in the connection.  The conversation changed.  I could see a tiny shift in the persons face, registering disappointment and hurt that they didn’t have my full attention.   I firmly believe that the greatest gift we can give someone is our full, undivided attention.  And the Apple watch got in the way of that.

 

A Psychologist’s Apple Watch Review: Helpful or Harmful? via Dr. Allison Answers

 

Can you listen to someone, while checking your watch?  Sure.  Can you do two things at once?  Technically, yes.  But this isn’t the same as giving someone your full attention.  And in this day and age, when disconnection seems more prevalent than ever, that’s important.  It was this dynamic that was the ultimate deal breaker for me.

 

So with my Apple watch review complete, will I be getting one anytime soon?  No, I will not.  However, that’s my experience and my opinion.  If you have and love your Apple watch, here are a few of my recommendations for how you can make it more mindfulness friendly.

 

  1. Turn off notifications for everything except contact from a real life human. When you allow notifications from an app, you’re giving an app control over where your attention goes. I’d rather you intentionally choosing where your attention goes. So change your settings to only allow notifications from humans (ie texts and phone calls).  This tweak is actually something I encourage everyone to do with their cell phones, even if you don’t have an Apple watch.  If you want to catch up on the news, open the news app.  If you want to follow up on your fantasy team, open up ESPN.  Choose to do these things, rather than having them creep into your life when you’re not asking for them.

 

  1. Be intentional with your watch, and be honest about what notifications you truly need. What alerts really help you function, versus what alerts are just kind of cool? Just because you can get an alert, doesn’t mean you need one. Be strategic.

 

  1. Consider taking your Apple watch off for some activities. I get that the watch is meant to be worn most of the day, but consider taking it off for periods of time. A good rule of thumb?  If you wouldn’t have your phone out and visible, then consider whether or not you really need to have the watch on.  If you’re out for dinner with friends, considering taking your watch off.  If you’re out for a hike with your dog, consider leaving the watch at home.  Challenge yourself to go all in and be all there once in a while.

 

In conclusion of my Apple watch review, I won’t be getting one any time soon.  My concerns about how the Apple watch impacts our attention and our ability to be present and mindful still stand.  That being said, the effects were less negative and a little more subtle than I imagined.  And there were some positives.  But for me, not enough to warrant wearing one.

 

My reason for making this video isn’t to knock on Apple products.  I love Apple; I have an iPhone and a MacBook.  And I’m not out to bash technology.  But I want us all to really think about our technology and the way we use it.  I want us to weigh intent versus impact and the pros versus the cons.  Just because we can have something, doesn’t mean we need it or that its good for us.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience in the comments!  Are you on the fence about the Apple watch?  Do you have one and plan to make a few changes to make it more mindfulness friendly?  Or do you have a suggestion that I didn’t mention in this video.  Please share it below!

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