One of the demos that lodged itself in my brain from the most recent Apple event was when Kevin Lynch used the Watch to remotely open a garage door to let in his daughter – who’d forgotten her key – while seeing a live feed from a security camera to confirm it was indeed opening. I finally twigged why I found this so compelling.
From the earliest days, technology has always been about giving ourselves extra abilities, about allowing us to transcend the limitations of our basic biology. Computers have played a dramatic role in this, but it’s always clear that we’re using them as a crutch; when we sit down in front of a desktop PC we’re acknowledging that we need this external technology’s help.
In making computers smaller – from the room to the desktop to the laptop to the pocket and now the wrist – I wonder if subconsciously we’ve been trying to make it less obvious that we need the help of other agents. There’s something about the nature of a smartwatch – not just that it’s discreet and unfamiliar as a computer-with-a-capital-c, but also that it’s permanently attached to you – that suggests the wearer has natively assimilated its powers.
With this demo, Lynch showed that not only could I see things happening on the other side of the world and physically reach across continents, but that I can do all that without apparently using a computer. Or at least, without as apparently using a computer as I would if I used a desktop PC, laptop, tablet or even smartphone.
We’ve always been obsessed with the idea of beings who can do fantastical things that we can’t. Gods. Superheroes. And I think the reason this demo struck me is that as technology becomes less and less apparent, as it more seamlessly empowers us to reach across space and time and do ever more spectacular things, we become superheroes ourselves.