The 'dumb watch' that helps you check your devices less
It's no small secret that we are addicted to our phones. This so-called 'dumb watch' can help you check it less... and looks great, too.
It's no small secret that we are addicted to our phones. By my own phone's measurements (thanks to the iOS 12 beta testing program) I use my phone between 2 to 4 hours daily. Which is double what I had estimated. iOS12 also tells me I pick up my phone about 110 times a day. These are mostly dozens of small checks of five to 10 minutes each, barely 15 minutes apart on average.
That's a shocking amount of time spent on a device that was supposed to make my life simpler. Instead, it's kind of taken over. Through a friend*, I came across Normal Object's 'Dumb Watch' ($275—and yes, that's the actual name), which is essentially just a gold bracelet that looks like a watch. The idea behind it is that it should, in theory, help you check your phone less. My interest piqued, I asked to try it. They sent me a sample, and I wore it for 3 days to test it out.
First, it's handsome: it really does look for all the world like a souped-up gold Casio digital watch, albeit with a bit more bling. But anyone that was close to it—friends, wife, baristas, guy sitting next to me at the barbershop—wanted to know more about it. It's a pretty good conversation starter, too: everyone who asked about it told me they had difficulty with smartphone-related attention spans deficits.
So, the big question: does it really work? Here's what I found. Yes, you do find yourself checking your phone less. In those moments where I'd usually pull out my phone to check the time (and then get sucked into a phone void), I found that I just looked at the dumb watch for half a second, reminded myself I didn't really need to get my phone out, and then moved on with my life. I was genuinely engaged more with my surroundings.
Whereas I usually averaged 110 pickups a day, with the dumb watch I averaged between 75 and 90; so roughly 1/3rd less than usual. For what it's worth, this wasn't a scientific study—nor do I claim it to be—I simply just found this to be an effective method of checking my phone less on the days that I wore it.
So I decided to go one step further and interview the guy who designed it, Jeremiah Baker of Los Angeles design firm Normal Objects. Turns out that he has a background in industrial design, having designed all kinds of everyday appliances for the likes of Samsung and many more. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
BIG THINK: You have a background in industrial design. How did you get started in that?
JEREMIAH BAKER: I went to design school for undergrad. But before that there was a high-school level program that gave a talk at my school. Not a lot of kids get that kind of exposure to, well, that job in general. There's not a lot of thought that goes into the objects around you. A lot of the design of these objects... industrial design... isn't particularly artful. There's a lot of problem-solving that goes into an industrial design. I guess the best works combine the two.
What kind of problem does the 'dumb watch' solve?
JEREMIAH BAKER: It's about less. Less is more. I recently, when I lived in San Francisco, I worked on a bunch of smartwatch designs [for Samsung - Ed.] when smartwatches were on the rise, around 2013-2014. I did a ton of smartwatch projects. I didn't like the idea that you were dependent on your device. I want people to pay attention to the moment, and not pay attention to the time. To live in the moment. I think with all these devices we've developed constant time anxiety.
What were some of the frustrations with working on smartwatches?
JEREMIAH BAKER: Some of the challenges there... they were pioneering from a production point. There's only a small area on your watch and you can't try to cram so much information in there... trying to funnel all that information into a tiny screen didn't feel natural. And the 'dumb watch' is supposed to contrast that. In theory — don't pay attention to your watch, to your devices. It's to remind you to slow down and appreciate what's around you.
There's a reason that wearable tech market slowed down considerably after 2016 or so... people tried to cram too much in there, into that small real estate. Health monitoring, that's beneficial. But I'm struggling to think who would want to buy a movie ticket through their watch.
Why make the 'dumb watch' beautiful? What were some of the design inspirations?
JEREMIAH BAKER: The silhouette is from an '80s Casio watch. It's an iconic footprint, and taking the watch out of it changes the role. And like I said, it's supposed to make you think about the moment, about the present, when you look at it. Why not make it beautiful? It's like what we do with the other items at Normal Objects, whether it's a jacket or a hat, or the 'dumb watch'. These items are meant to have a story, but I feel that over time we've commoditized them. [Normal Objects] is trying to bring that back, to make them premium, to make them elevated. And it cuts out time anxiety.
Allow me to play devil's advocate for a second. What makes this different than a gold bracelet?
JEREMIAH BAKER: Most timepieces on people's wrists used to tell a story... smartwatches don't really do that anymore. We already live in a society with enough screens and there's no use making another complicated, ornate thing that's arbitrary and doesn't ultimately tell a story.
Right. You're not going to hand your Apple Watch down to your kids.
JEREMIAH BAKER: Exactly.
*Full disclosure: I used to work for a fancy men's magazine a few years ago, I became friends with someone at a PR company that used to pitch me products. We chat almost exclusively about LA sports teams and New York media. I didn't receive payment nor gifts from Normal Objects—or any other party, for that matter—to feature the 'dumb watch'; I just really dug the idea behind it.
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The Oedipal complex, repressed memories, penis envy? Sigmund Freud's ideas are far-reaching, but few have withstood the onslaught of empirical evidence.
- Sigmund Freud stands alongside Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein as one of history's best-known scientists.
- Despite his claim of creating a new science, Freud's psychoanalysis is unfalsifiable and based on scant empirical evidence.
- Studies continue to show that Freud's ideas are unfounded, and Freud has come under scrutiny for fabricating his most famous case studies.
Few thinkers are as celebrated as Sigmund Freud, a figure as well-known as Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud's ideas didn't simply shift the paradigms in academia and psychotherapy. They indelibly disseminated into our cultural consciousness. Ideas like transference, repression, the unconscious iceberg, and the superego are ubiquitous in today's popular discourse.
Despite this renown, Freud's ideas have proven to be ill-substantiated. Worse, it is now believed that Freud himself may have fabricated many of his results, opportunistically disregarding evidence with the conscious aim of promoting preferred beliefs.
"[Freud] really didn't test his ideas," Harold Takooshian, professor of psychology at Fordham University, told ATI. "He was just very persuasive. He said things no one said before, and said them in such a way that people actually moved from their homes to Vienna and study with him."
Unlike Darwin and Einstein, Freud's brand of psychology presents the impression of a scientific endeavor but ultimately lack two of vital scientific components: falsification and empirical evidence.
Freud's therapeutic approach may be unfounded, but at least it was more humane than other therapies of the day. In 1903, this patient is being treated in "auto-conduction cage" as a part of his electrotherapy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The discipline of psychotherapy is arguably Freud's greatest contribution to psychology. In the post-World War II era, psychoanalysis spread through Western academia, influencing not only psychotherapy but even fields such as literary criticism in profound ways.
The aim of psychoanalysis is to treat mental disorders housed in the patient's psyche. Proponents believe that such conflicts arise between conscious thoughts and unconscious drives and manifest as dreams, blunders, anxiety, depression, or neurosis. To help, therapists attempt to unearth unconscious desires that have been blocked by the mind's defense mechanisms. By raising repressed emotions and memories to the conscious fore, the therapist can liberate and help the patient heal.
That's the idea at least, but the psychoanalytic technique stands on shaky empirical ground. Data leans heavily on a therapist's arbitrary interpretations, offering no safe guards against presuppositions and implicit biases. And the free association method offers not buttress to the idea of unconscious motivation.
Don't get us wrong. Patients have improved and even claimed to be cured thanks to psychoanalytic therapy. However, the lack of methodological rigor means the division between effective treatment and placebo effect is ill-defined.
Sigmund Freud, circa 1921. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Nor has Freud's concept of repressed memories held up. Many papers and articles have been written to dispel the confusion surrounding repressed (aka dissociated) memories. Their arguments center on two facts of the mind neurologists have become better acquainted with since Freud's day.
First, our memories are malleable, not perfect recordings of events stored on a biological hard drive. People forget things. Childhood memories fade or are revised to suit a preferred narrative. We recall blurry gists rather than clean, sharp images. Physical changes to the brain can result in loss of memory. These realities of our mental slipperiness can easily be misinterpreted under Freud's model as repression of trauma.
Second, people who face trauma and abuse often remember it. The release of stress hormones imprints the experience, strengthening neural connections and rendering it difficult to forget. It's one of the reasons victims continue to suffer long after. As the American Psychological Association points out, there is "little or no empirical support" for dissociated memory theory, and potential occurrences are a rarity, not the norm.
More worryingly, there is evidence that people are vulnerable to constructing false memories (aka pseudomemories). A 1996 study found it could use suggestion to make one-fifth of participants believe in a fictitious childhood memory in which they were lost in a mall. And a 2007 study found that a therapy-based recollection of childhood abuse "was less likely to be corroborated by other evidence than when the memories came without help."
This has led many to wonder if the expectations of psychoanalytic therapy may inadvertently become a self-fulfilling prophecy with some patients.
"The use of various dubious techniques by therapists and counselors aimed at recovering allegedly repressed memories of [trauma] can often produce detailed and horrific false memories," writes Chris French, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. "In fact, there is a consensus among scientists studying memory that traumatic events are more likely to be remembered than forgotten, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder."
The Oedipal complex
The Blind Oedipus Commending His Children to the Gods by Benigne Gagneraux. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
During the phallic stage, children develop fierce erotic feelings for their opposite-sex parent. This desire, in turn, leads them to hate their same-sex parent. Boys wish to replace their father and possess their mother; girls become jealous of their mothers and desire their fathers. Since they can do neither, they repress those feelings for fear of reprisal. If unresolved, the complex can result in neurosis later in life.
That's the Oedipal complex in a nutshell. You'd think such a counterintuitive theory would require strong evidence to back it up, but that isn't the case.
Studies claiming to prove the Oedipal complex look to positive sexual imprinting — that is, the phenomenon in which people choose partners with physical characteristics matching their same-sex parent. For example, a man's wife and mother have the same eye color, or woman's husband and father sport a similar nose.
But such studies don't often show strong correlation. One study reporting "a correction of 92.8 percent between the relative jaw width of a man's mother and that of [his] mates" had to be retracted for factual errors and incorrect analysis. Studies showing causation seem absent from the literature, and as we'll see, the veracity of Freud's own case studies supporting the complex is openly questioned today.
Better supported, yet still hypothetical, is the Westermarck effect. Also called reverse sexual imprinting, the effect predicts that people develop a sexual aversion to those they grow up in close proximity with, as a mean to avoid inbreeding. The effect isn't just shown in parents and siblings; even step-siblings will grow sexual averse to each other if they grow up from early childhood.
An analysis published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology evaluated the literature on human mate choice. The analysis found little evidence for positive imprinting, citing study design flaws and an unwillingness of researchers to seek alternative explanations. In contrast, it found better support for negative sexual imprinting, though it did note the need for further research.
The Freudian slip
Mark notices Deborah enter the office whistling an upbeat tune. He turns to his coworker to say, "Deborah's pretty cheery this morning," but accidentally blunders, "Deborah's pretty cherry this morning." Simple slip up? Not according to Freud, who would label this a parapraxis. Today, it's colloquially known as a "Freudian slip."
"Almost invariably I discover a disturbing influence from something outside of the intended speech," Freud wrote in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. "The disturbing element is a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the special blunder."
In the Freudian view, Mark's mistaken word choice resulted from his unconscious desire for Deborah, as evident by the sexually-charged meanings of the word "cherry." But Rob Hartsuiker, a psycholinguist from Ghent University, says that such inferences miss the mark by ignoring how our brains process language.
According to Hartsuiker, our brains organize words by similarity and meaning. First, we must select the word in that network and then process the word's sounds. In this interplay, all sorts of conditions can prevent us from grasping the proper phonemes: inattention, sleepiness, recent activation, and even age. In a study co-authored by Hartsuiker, brain scans showed our minds can recognize and correct for taboo utterances internally.
"This is very typical, and it's also something Freud rather ignored," Hartsuiker told BBC. He added that evidence for true Freudian slips is scant.
Freud's case studies
Sergej Pankejeff, known as the "Wolf Man" in Freud's case study, claimed that Freud's analysis of his condition was "propaganda."
It's worth noting that there is much debate as to the extent that Freud falsified his own case studies. One famous example is the case of the "Wolf Man," real name Sergej Pankejeff. During their sessions, Pankejeff told Freud about a dream in which he was lying in bed and saw white wolves through an open window. Freud interpreted the dream as the manifestation of a repressed trauma. Specifically, he claimed that Pankejeff must have witnessed his parents in coitus.
For Freud this was case closed. He claimed Pankejeff successfully cured and his case as evidence for psychoanalysis's merit. Pankejeff disagreed. He found Freud's interpretation implausible and said that Freud's handling of his story was "propaganda." He remained in therapy on and off for over 60 years.
Many of Freud's other case studies, such "Dora" and "the Rat Man" cases, have come under similar scrutiny.
Sigmund Freud and his legacy
Freud's ideas may not live up to scientific inquiry, but their long shelf-life in film, literature, and criticism has created some fun readings of popular stories. Sometimes a face is just a face, but that face is a murderous phallic symbol. (Photo: Flickr)
Of course, there are many ideas we've left out. Homosexuality originating from arrested sexual development in anal phase? No way. Freudian psychosexual development theory? Unfalsifiable. Women's penis envy? Unfounded and insulting. Men's castration anxiety? Not in the way Freud meant it.
If Freud's legacy is so ill-informed, so unfounded, how did he and his cigars cast such a long shadow over the 20th century? Because there was nothing better to offer at the time.
When Freud came onto the scene, neurology was engaged in a giddy free-for-all. As New Yorker writer Louis Menand points out, the era's treatments included hypnosis, cocaine, hydrotherapy, female castration, and institutionalization. By contemporary standards, it was a horror show (as evident by these "treatments" featuring so prominently in our horror movies).
Psychoanalysis offered a comparably clement and humane alternative. "Freud's theories were like a flashlight in a candle factory," anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann told Menand.
But Freud and his advocates triumph his techniques as a science, and this is wrong. The empirical evidence for his ideas is limited and arbitrary, and his conclusions are unfalsifiable. The theory that explains every possible outcome explains none of them.
With that said, one might consider Freud's ideas to be a proto-science. As astrology heralded astronomy, and alchemy preceded chemistry, so to did Freud's psychoanalysis popularize psychology, paving the way for its more rapid development as a scientific discipline. But like astrology and alchemy, we should recognize Freud's ideas as the historic artifacts they are.
On Thursday, New Zealand moved to ban an array of semi-automatic guns and firearms components following a mass shooting that killed 50 people.
- Gun control supporters are pointing to the ban as an example of swift, decisive action that the U.S. desperately needs.
- Others note the inherent differences between the two nations, arguing that it is a good thing that it is relatively hard to pass such legislation in such a short timeframe.
- The ban will surely shape future conversations about gun control in the U.S.
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