Information Technology: Red Carpet Edition
Husna T. Ghani
People are speaking to themselves and staring at their wrists while running. They are wearing bulky glasses and screaming. They are listening to a calm voice that tells them which route to take. They are charging their devices with their clothing. What is this odd phenomenon that is taking over people’s minds? It’s the super wave of wearable technology!
Wearable technology is exactly what it sounds like. A user can wear electronic gadgets for a hands-free approach to receiving and transmitting data faster. Why do we need data to be transferred faster? The growth of the mobile industry, wireless technology, and our own impatience have led to the need for data at our fingertips—or in this case, worn on us.
Wearable technology is part of the Internet of things (IoT). The IoT is a group of network-enabled devices that utilize the internet to function, and wearable technology is one group. General wearable technology is used for entertainment, personal fitness, everyday activities, and law enforcement (such as ankle monitors). Medical wearable technology is used for collecting, tracking, and sharing pertinent health information with a healthcare professional. These wearable technologies can be worn in the form of accessories like watches, earbuds, belts, rings, wristbands/bracelets, key trackers, and glasses, or embedded in clothing. And, not unlike in a sci-fi movie, microchips can also be added to keys and cards to allow for keyless entry and eliminate passwords. They can even be used as tracking devices in the form of a disc or adhesive placed in or on your wallet, purse, pet collar, toy, etc.
The term “wearable technology” sounds new and futuristic. However, people have been wearing devices to improve their lives for centuries. According to the “History of Optometry” by the American Optometric Association, the current skeletal framework for eyeglass design has been around since the thirteenth century. Before that, people were dependent upon either magnifying devices or other people. Watches were also one of the first wearable technologies. A pocket watch, and later a wristwatch, was the “mobile” device for the time conscious. Imagine having to locate a sundial whenever you needed to know the time!
There are many categories of everyday wearable technologies. Wireless earbuds are convenient because you can move around a specific radius without being attached to a larger device, like a phone, smart tablet, or computer. Smartwatches allow functions such as receiving email, performing calculations, navigating with GPS, reading, listening to music, and finding meteorological updates or news alerts. If you remember, they also tell time. Regular fitness trackers are advanced pedometers. They allow you to observe the number of steps you have taken, the distance walked, and the calories burned, and they can even help you compete with others. Virtual reality headsets give the user the feel of being where the action is while viewing places or playing video games.
Now you can even wear your technology in everyday outfits. There is clothing that recharges your devices by having charging pads built into an outfit. Since protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful radiation is important, there is also ultraviolet radiation protective clothing. These clothes have titanium dioxide and zinc oxide embedded in the fibers. Lastly, child monitoring devices are wearables that have a GPS or tracking microchip embedded in them in order to alert you to a child’s location.
Pedometers used to be the early technology for “healthy” data collection. However, medical wearable technology now uses advanced biosensors in order for you to monitor detailed information or send that information to your healthcare professional. These devices collect, monitor, and transmit data within minutes, if not seconds. Heart smartwatches monitor cardiac information such as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and sleep rhythm. According to Alicia Phaneuf’s article for Business Insider, wearable medical devices can include data for electrocardiograms and blood pressure monitoring. There are wearable diabetic monitors that help track sugar level data, and some wearable diabetic monitors even include a pump that releases insulin when sugar levels become high. There are also acupressure wristbands for individuals who are experiencing nausea due to morning sickness, sea sickness, or post chemotherapy.
Wearable technology may seem like the be-all, end-all of civilization, but is it everything it’s cut out to be? That depends upon the devices you use and your reasons for using them. Wearing gear that tells you what’s going on inside of you, as well as around you, sounds very advanced and futuristic, and for devices that do not require personal identification or sensitive information, it may seem fine. However, when we consider the amount of data involved with health information, we need to be more careful. Many medical wearable technologies require the use of the internet, hospital networks, and third-party medical devices.
Kurt A. Griggs works with information security at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In an article by Bill Swicki for Healthcare IT News, Griggs said, “The transformation is generating rapid advancements in mobile healthcare, big data, virtual reality, smart devices like wearables and medical/vital monitors, predictive healthcare, and artificial intelligence. With these advancements, new technologies are emerging, and manufacturers are developing new and innovative medical devices.” However, with great technologies come great threats. Griggs went on to say that since these devices are not “standalone appliances,” they are at risk for cybersecurity threats due to their connectivity.
So, what do we do? We know wearable technology and technology in general have made our lives easier and more efficient. The past year and half of a global pandemic has proven technology’s worth. However, our reliance on having technology on us for convenience, ease, and efficiency puts us at varying levels of risk, whether it is from radiation exposure or a hacking threat. Do your research, consult with professionals, and use your best judgment. As with all worthy things in life, the need to be cautious is paramount.
Husna T. Ghani has an MBA, an MSEd, and degrees in biology and chemistry. She has taught microbiology, as well as several laboratory sciences, and is currently a strategy consultant in the spheres of healthcare and communications. When she isn’t doing her day job, she focuses on dessert-making and saving the world, one pastry at a time.