Lass But Not Least: My watch is watching me

By Ken Lass

As a young boy, I would eagerly await the afternoon paper. I would immediately flip through it to find the comic strips, and my favorite strip was Dick Tracy. In his bright yellow trench coat, Dick was the master detective and police detective who always identified the bad guy and brought him to justice. I admit, part of me always wondered why someone who wanted to operate in secret and lurk behind the shadows would want to wear a bright yellow trench coat. But I thought Dick had his reasons.

Ken Lass, Tribune columnist

By far the coolest thing about Dick Tracy was his wristwatch. It was actually a radio that allowed him to talk to headquarters and his fellow patrolmen. This was the 1950s and it was crazy. I fantasized about having such an incredible device. I pretended to be Dick Tracy and spoke into my bare wrist and pretended to wear the magic watch.

A few years ago, when I heard that Apple had released a watch that could actually take calls, I excitedly ordered one for myself and one for Sharon. As soon as they arrived, I ripped open the box, assembled them, slapped them on my wrist, and immediately asked Sharon to call me. I think I squealed with delight when my watch's ringtone sounded and I pressed the little green button to answer.

“Hello?” she said.

“HELLO!” I screamed ecstatically into the clock. “Who is there?”

“This is Sharon. I'm standing right next to you.”

“Hello Sharon! How are you?”

She rolled her eyes and hung up. No matter. After seventy years, I had realized my fantasy. I Was Dick Tracy! I could call people while I'm awake! Now if only I could find a bright yellow trench coat…

I would find it pretty amazing what my Apple Watch can do. I could use it to watch TV, take photos, monitor my heart rate, send a text message, order a sandwich, use a compass, check my email, and more. Basically, it's a smartphone on your arm. Dick would be jealous of me!

But now I'm wondering how big a deal this really is. Last Sunday, we were pulling out of the garage at 7:45 a.m. when my watch buzzed to tell me, “You're six minutes from First Baptist Church Trussville.” The next day, when Sharon left, her watch correctly said she was “ten minutes from Trussville Target.” In fact, it's become routine for these devices to tell us where we're going, which is odd because half the time I don't even know where I'm going. Clearly our watches are watching us. They note where we're going, what we're doing, and when we're doing it. And then they tell us if we're doing it right and on time.

In fact, mine has become a bit bossy. It tells me how much exercise I still need to do that day, when I should get up, and when I should relax and be “mindful,” whatever that means. It tells me to pick up a package at my front door, to look out for my neighbor's lost dog, and that this is my last chance to buy speakers at the electronics store before they go on sale. It even scolds me when I plug in my AirPods to listen to music, telling me the volume is too high. Dick Tracy would never tolerate that.

I guess this is all meant to make my life easier, but between you and me, it's getting a little scary. I keep wondering where this technology is going. I fear one day it will tell me not to order that banana pudding for dessert because it has too much sugar. Maybe it will report me to the police when I gently drive through that stop sign (not that I ever do that). It will change the channel on my TV when I decide to watch trash (I might do that). It will tell me I need to change my little grandson's diaper because he's had another accident (hopefully Sharon will do that).

Maybe I'm just exaggerating. You have to use technology and not let it use you. That's what one of my tech-savvy friends told me. I was talking to him about my watch, you know. From now on, I'm going to be more careful with the settings and limit access to this device.

That is, if my watch allows it.