Watch up, Doc?

How new digital watches will change our body language for ever — or not…

Looking at your watch during a meeting is about to change meaning as the marketing machines go into overdrive to promote the new Apple watch.

How this will change the nature of human behavior and what will become more or less socially acceptable at bars and in meetings?

When standing in a cocktail party or at a bar, checking your watch without spilling your drink is still an art some people have failed to muster, especially after they have had a few. Wearing your watch on the same side as you hold your drink is destined for problems.

My prediction for 2015 is that we are about to see a lot more spilled drinks in bars as people check unexpected text messages or emails. Hands may be freed from obsessively gripping onto mobile phones, but wrists will have to be consulted that requires a whole different range of body movements.

It is in business or professional meetings that the new behaviours will really come into their own.

The downward wrist glance maybe practiced with sufficient discretion as to involve eye movement only and no other indicator of bodily distraction. The wrist glance of course requires a revealed watch at all times.

If the watch is not revealed, then the wearer is required to make a much larger body gesture, the watch reveal — which involves pulling back a sweater or suit sleeve, possibly pushing a stiff or buttoned shirt cuff back to expose the watch to view. So the wrist glance may be discreet but the watch reveal is certainly an ostentatious move which will attract attention,

If I look at my watch during a meeting, most people interpret that as meaning I am looking to see what the time is and therefore, I am anticipating the end of the meeting. I may be expressing boredom by looking at my watch. I am certainly communicating that I am no longer responding to whoever is speaking and that my attention has strayed elsewhere. On the whole, traditionally, in western cultures, looking at your watch during meetings is regarded as a sign of rudeness. Not unlike looking for hairs on the palm of your hand, which as we all know is the first sign of madness — or at least uncontrolled OCD.

The degree of rudeness may be mitigated by the size of the meeting. If there are more than about four or five people in a meeting, such behavior is possible without contaminating the thrust of the whole. The collective attention of the meeting is likely to be more resilient to an occasional individual aberration. This indicator of disrespect may be acceptable if the person concerned is not, at that point, playing an active part in the meeting. It is certainly less obnoxious than getting busy with Candy Crush.

If a speaker acts with a kind of a detached insouciance, alternating their contribution to a meeting by frequent glances at their watch, whenever anyone else is speaking, this is generally regarded as truly obnoxious. This is a more extreme offensive than the merely obnoxious. It is an indicator that the speaker is only interested to hear what they have to say and is not listening to anyone else because he or she has no respect for them. Truly obnoxious.

If they are the chair person or facilitator of the meeting, then it is unlikely that such behavior will be acceptable at any point, unless it is directly related to the smooth-running of the meeting. But there are one or two exceptions. The skilled chair person may possibly use the body language of looking at his or her watch to indicate that the speaker has gone on for far too long and is boring the pants off everyone, or to indicate that the meeting itself is nearing a close or has over-extended into abject tedium.

If we substitute the behavior of looking at our mobile phones for looking at our watches, in contemporary meeting practice, the position has become very different. Here entire generations behave quite differently from one another. Old stuffed shirts tend to regard the consultation of a mobile phone as almost equivalent to a watch glance. Millennials, on the other hand, take a very different view. The consultation of the phone during a meeting is regarded as more acceptable because we are obviously using it to take notes, to check a message or email, to search for a relevant photo or video — or simply because when you look around the meeting, everyone else is checking theirs so you had better check yours. Indeed so massively multifunctional is a mobile phone that the regular and commonplace consultation of a phone during a meeting is rarely regarded as being unacceptable, although, of course, excessive use may be seen by the more conservative as still being plain rude.

So the question is — what happens when lots of people start wearing the kind of multi-functional watch that is already commonplace among the digirati, but which is about to get a whole lot more conspicuous as a result of Apple’s launch of their Watch and all the corresponding competitive reaction?

Arguably, people might now dare to think that, suitably armed (sorry) with their new watches, coming into meetings without a phone is now a feasible behaviour. The consequence of this will be frequent, in-meeting, watch reveals and wrist glancing. How acceptable that turns out to be or how obnoxious we consider such behaviours, may well dictate the market success of the new generation of watches.

The meaning of our body language may be about to change forever. One thing is for sure, it’s a lot less easy to share something on your watch than it is on your phone. Spending an extended time looking at watches may just turn out to be less convenient than looking at our phones — and even more anti-social.

(c) Jeremy Silver, 2015

One response to “Watch up, Doc?

  1. Pingback: Here's How To Fix Common Watch Glitches | Techno FAQ

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