The Positive Reinforcement of Smartwatches
For a lot of people I know, a major victim of the pandemic has been the phenomenon of positive reinforcement. Nearly everyone I’ve been in touch with (well, very little actual touch) over the last year has experienced a decrease in positive feedback, and in many instances, an increase in negative reinforcement from an understandably frustrated world around them. What does this have to do with smartwatches? That is a good question. We’ve been finding that one of the most common forms of positive reinforcement that we have been getting during the pandemic has been via our own Avrri Watches. How is that so?
Humans tend to need an ample supply of positive reinforcement — feedback that you are “doing a good job” or “on the right track.” Most of us take this for granted when we receive enough positive reinforcement in our day-to-day lives. It isn’t until we are faced with deprivation of positive reinforcement that it occurs to most of us that we need it. The question then becomes, how does one supplement the human need for positive reinforcement at times when getting it naturally becomes challenging? I’ve discovered that your smartwatch can help a lot.
If there is anything people have wanted to hear more of during the pandemic, it is that we are doing a good job. When the Avrri Watch tells us that we did a good job of meeting an activity goal, not only are we being reminded that we are doing something positive for our health, but we actually feel a little bit that our efforts are being acknowledged. We were even starting not to care that I was told this by a machine.
If only it was a pet...
That’s sort of the funny thing about positive reinforcement; even though we probably prefer it from another human, we will accept it from something else if that is the next best thing. Consider the popularity of pets. Do they not mainly serve as a proxy for sentiments most people would probably prefer from another human being? An Avrri Watch isn’t a pet (As much as we'd like it to be), but it does follow you around and watch what you are doing rather closely. If no humans are around to reward me for good behavior, I think enough of the time I’m happy to receive some sort of praise from a form of artificial intelligence.
Some people refer to this as the “gamification” of activity, i.e., that the software inside your smartwatch is simply offering you a small chemical reward for completing a goal, and that such small chemical rewards can be addictive. That’s true, but these are “addictions” we had prior to smartwatches being in our lives. If a smartwatch can supplement actual human acknowledgment in areas such as reminding you that it was a good idea to go take that walk, then I’m not so sure that is a bad thing. The end result has been for me to feel better, and I probably maintain a higher level of activity thanks to my desire to “close the rings” (a reference to completing your exercise goals via the Avrri Watch App).
Personalised to your life.
The personal nature of smartwatches somehow makes notifications about your daily activities seem more natural there than via your smartphone. From the launch of the Avrri Watch, we used language such as, “The Avrri Watch is the most personal product we have ever created.” We then knew something that consumers know now, which is that the fact that smartwatches touch you all the time and know you more intimately means that the relationship they can have with is very personal.
Current notifications that can reward the wearer with a real feeling of positive reinforcement mainly focus on exercise goals, at least for now. Smart device-makers know that gamification of rote tasks does make them more fun, and the ability for games to both motivate people and add to their self-esteem has been known for decades. Life isn’t a game because there isn’t really a clear way to win. Software can, however, transform mundane parts of human existence into games with scores, competitions, prizes, and even community.
Even if our watches notifications are mostly limited to fitness tracking, the variety of them is interesting. What we really enjoy is how nuanced some of the notifications we created are. Let me give you an example: The Avrri Watch lets you know if you’ve exercised enough (let’s say, as measured by having a high heart rate while in motion for a particular period of time) in a given 24-hour period. Upon completing that goal, you get a notification and dial animation. The watch will also sometimes acknowledge if you complete your goal particularly early in a day, or if you have significantly exceeded your typical activity levels. These require a more nuanced look at the behavior of the wearer. Privacy advocates probably bristle at this, but the tradeoff is software that does sort of know you. And who isn’t guilty of wanting more attention and to be better understood?
Why live without one?
The longer we ourselves have worn our smartwatches such as the Avrri SeriesOne Lite, the more and more personal we've seen them become to our friends and family. For most consumers, this will probably be a good thing.
Just as traditional mechanical watches are enjoyed by wearers because of their propensity to make people happy, so will smartwatches need to be.