Foreground:Background. Can watches save us from our phone attention deficit disorder?

I mentioned briefly in a previous post how the mobile phone has become a foreground object. By that I mean an object that requires two hands, full attention, lean forward, foreground activity.

Back in the day, the mobile was a one-handed, back pocket, interrupting, background device. But then we got better platforms, stronger computing, bigger bandwidth, and more things to focus out attention on (indeed, phone makers are piling on the features complicating matters further).

Mark Manson has a nice rant about how everyone always has to be checking their phones (“the new cigarette”). And the Verge wrote a nice article on how we are trying to reclaim the space our phones are taking over.

Watch me complicate things
In that same previous post of mine I was touting the watch as the new glanceable background surface. But are we replacing one addiction (the phone) with another (a watch)?

I am cognizant of two things when I have my watch one. One, while a vibration on my wrist is a notification of some sort that I know is requesting my attention, I focus my attention on the need of the moment: a person, a call, a movie, work (not much different than I am with my phone).

The other is a bit more subtle. I am aware that glancing at the wrist is signal for impatience or hoping time moves faster. Now that we’re mixing this up by having folks look at their wrists for notifications, we might be sending the wrong message. All the more reason to not glance at your watch while talking to someone.

Unintended consequences
Though can folks be any less tied to their devices if something is poking them on the wrist for attention? While I keep thinking of the watch as the new background, we might still not be able to unclench our paws from our phones. The watch will only serve to provide us yet another surface to sap our attention.

Are you more hopeful than I am? Do you think a new gadget with a new form factor and interaction metaphor help cure us of our phone attention deficit?