I'm a tech dork. So when the Apple Watch released I bought one. It arrived last Friday and boy was I in for a shock (pun only slightly intended). As soon as it arrived I synced it to my phone and off I went. I didn't customize it too much. I prefer to take it for a test drive to experience all the bells and whistles before I make selections that might inadvertently cause me to miss out on any features. So anyway, I was sitting doing paperwork, when I shot out of my seat! After I had calmed down I was able to recall hearing a beep and my wrist vibrated but it was such a shock I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin. Let me clarify that I am not a wuss. I have tattoos all over, I have received a few dog bites in my day, and I have enough other dings and scars from being an outdoorsy kind of girl (I'll tell you about the pickaxe scar some other time). So after having a watch shoot me out of a seated position I was taken aback for a moment.
As I reflected on what had just happened I wondered to myself why the experience had been so shocking. I wondered what it was about the sensation that affected me so strongly. In all honestly the sensation was very mild. There was no pain and no mark left by the watch. It was not even as harsh as an static shock, and nothing to the degree that a have felt with a dog boundary fence collar (that made me see stars).
I pondered this as the day progressed and with each notification, be it a text message, social media, or activity app, it still sometimes got me. It depended on what I was doing. If I was teaching I might only hear the tone or not notice it at all. Other times I might be yanked out of whatever had my attention. I started feeling anxious. Twitchy. I started getting annoyed. I'm sure I could have gone into my settings and turned the sound/vibration off, but I couldn't. I wanted to understand how this would feel to something that couldn't turn it off and probably didn't have the foggiest idea why it was happening.
The theory behind shock collars aka e-collars aka stim collars aka vibration collars, is that the sensation is meant to get the dog's attention and in some cases with some devices, punish the dog. If it is meant to punish the dog, the punishment is delivered in two ways. Either via a shock that tells the dog their current action was incorrect, and/or to hold down the shock until the dog performs the correct behavior. Most proponents of these devices defend the tools by claiming that the shocks/stimulation are kept very low, just enough to get the response they are looking for.
So as I consider this training method and incorporate my experience with a device, strapped to a section of my body that is not all that sensitive, I start to feel anxiety well up over me. Had this been on my neck and I had zero knowledge of why that sensation was happening to me, I would be in a panic. Then to consider that "through proper training, the sensation would be explained to me," I am even more skeptical. Because even though I know why it is coming, it isn't without it's side effects.
I'm sure everyone with a smart phone has suffered from "phantom vibrations." That sensation in your pocket that your phone just vibrated but in reality it did not. The worst is when you realize your phone isn't in your pocket at all. Now I have that on my wrist. I even feel it when I hear someone else's Apple Watch go off. That would explain why trainers who use shock collars report that after training, many only need to use the beep. It's not because it's a reminder. It's more than a reminder, because that phantom sensation is real. And imagine all the times it might go off with no beep. Just a phantom sensation when no correction was applied. Now what if I get that sensation from my watch when I'm doing something important, like driving. I admit it is distracting so I have turned off those notifications while driving. Heck I have twitched while holding a cup of coffee. Now what about a dog who is sniffing another dog... or a child's face.
I am far from an alarmist. And this article is not meant to cause deep emotional conflict. Instead I think it is an interesting thing to consider. Before these watches and health bands, we never had random notification strapped to our bodies. Now, like never before we can start to consider what another creature might be going through without having to use our imaginations. Because now the experience is readily available to humans for $50-$10,000 plus shipping. Except that if it bothers us, we can turn it off...