David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
The A Watch

December 29, 2019

Some dear colleagues recently got me an Apple Watch.  Clearly they hope it helps me stay on top of my health, and I'll admit there is already something addictive about it.  The watch has encouraged me to develop some routines during this long break while the college is closed. I don't know how well I will be able to maintain those when I get back to a work routine, though.

Truth be told, the first week I had the watch I thought it was in tune with my academic life.  At my first (really long) meeting wearing it, the watch first told me to breathe, later to stand.  Eventually I figured out that these were not demands, but recommendations. In fact, at the same long meeting, as conversations turned to subjects guaranteed to rile me up, I was surreptitiously glancing at the watch to see if my heart rate was increasing. (By the way, do others, like me, surreptitiously look up "surreptitiously" in the dictionary every time we use the word.) Ironically, my heart rate didn't seem to be elevated, but that makes me wonder more about my coping mechanisms and less about a natural bodily response. Compare it to a long-term hostage scenario.

Still, there are a lot of brilliant scientists and engineers in the world of academia. Why can't we make our version of the Apple Watch: The Apple Academic Watch, or The A Watch, in short? (The AA watch would be rejected on multiple fronts.) Like the bio-related features of the current Apple Watch, the features on The A Watch would be meant to help keep users healthy academically.

Think of all that it could monitor:

  • As I had wished, it could have a "breathe" reminder, not tied to a genial recommendation, but a biting wake-me up for when the body begins to shut down in long meetings.
  • It could have the snark monitor, keeping track of how often the wearer falls back on snark, instead of rational counter-point.  Note, this monitoring is a warning, not an encouragement.
  • A WPM monitor could capture the wearer's "words per minute."  Like with our heart rates, getting into triple digits is occasionally o.k., but the key is how quickly you can get back to a resting word rate. For the record, the "resting word rate" for a non-academic is 3 words per minute; for an academic, it is 45 words per minute.
  • A "Here You Go Again" alarm could alert us when a student begins to complain or present excuses.  While the unsophisticated user would track these alarms so that, at the end of the day, he or she could proudly post on FaceBook, "A new record: 19 HYGA's today," the more sophisticated user would see the alarm as a warning of confirmation bias, and then check his or her response to the student.
  • An Assessment Cycle Tracker could "help you understand your overall curricular health."  For the uninitiated, my watch has a cycle tracking that horrified me when I first discovered it.  It flouts the benefit quoted directly above, with the exception of my added "curricular."  Let's just hope that the Assessment Cycle Tracking could serve the whole population, not just half as the current Cycle Tracking does.  Assessment already has too much of an us vs. them mentality between general education and career education.
  • The Computer Eye-Scan Tracker could account for the number of emails opened and read. While ideally meant to help users cut down on the total number, savvy colleges could monitor these to confirm employees who are ignoring their emails, especially the ones from the Wellness Committee.

In addition, a whole series of academic workouts could be programmed to improve performance on the job.

  • The Non-Social Media workout could time the amount of minutes the user stays away from a FaceBook, Instagram, or Twitter account.
  • The Lecture Spread workout would capture the total amount of steps taking during a lecture, encouraging the sage on the stage to use the whole stage and not just perch at the podium.  In essence this would be the counter to the "Stand" feature: "You've been standing for 40 minutes. Move to the left or right, damn it!"
  • The Commencement Counter would allow all to tabulate the number of students crossing the stage, with a built-in algorithm to account for heart rate responses that correlate with the number of students who really will graduate along side the students who will be retaking at least one class over the summer.  Eventually the U.S News & World Report would collect this information and use the information as part of its college rankings.

I hear that Apple may have been secretly trying to develop this A Watch for years, but focus groups have continually frustrated them.  Word on the street is that Apple now refuses to lower itself for the academic market.