the kinds of questions and problems
that drive my research on the social
acceptability of wearables.
WATCHES AND EARPIECES
AND HEADBANDS, OH MY!
A wristwatch is the closest cousin
to the new world of wearables.
Initially, wristwatches were worn
only by women, at the end of the
19th century, as small clock faces
attached to bracelets. Men stuck to
their gold pocket watches until after
World War I, during which time pilots
and artillery officers donned trench
watches. When they brought these
home after the war, wristwatches
became acceptable for men to wear.
By the 1930s, wristwatches had taken
over pocket watches. In the 1970s,
digital displays became popular, and
in the 1980s, the bright, inexpensive
Swatch was a hit. As with sunglasses
and handbags, designers branded
wristwatches [ 2]. However, by the turn
of the 21st century, the mobile phone
was becoming the timepiece of choice.
Younger people especially have been
less likely to wear wristwatches. But
once again, change is afoot. Apple
Watch and fitness trackers have more
people returning to wrist-worn devices.
A wearable that resembles a
wristwatch will of course garner high
social acceptability—regardless of
what one thinks about its aesthetic
appeal, it breaks no taboos. But what
about a wearable that looks unlike
existing technology, that perhaps even
makes its wearer look less human? Or a
wearable that, like Glass, can secretly
record people? What about wearables
that can be a hazard on the road or
elicit rude behavior?
TO BUILD A MEASURE
To measure a wearable’s social
acceptability, I developed a survey
called the WEAR Scale, for WEarable
Acceptability Range. I implemented
an established multistep process for
its development, including qualitative
interviews, literature reviews, expert
reviews, and exploratory factor
analysis [ 3, 4].
Step 1 was to determine exactly what
I aimed to measure. By conducting
a thorough literature review and
interviewing nine participants about
wearables and the topic of social
acceptability, I was able to define the
main terms and the parameters of the
you present yourself to the world, such
as a tattoo, which you may decide daily
whether to show or conceal. In fact,
this morning ritual taken in its entirety
is known as getting ready—ready for
one’s role in the social world [ 1].
Clothing, hair styles, cosmetics,
and various accessories date back
millennia. Today we have a new
category of objects that we may choose
to put on our bodies, which are quite
different from previous choices:
wearable devices. We can wear a
watch-like device that does far more
than tell time. We can stick something
in our ear so that we can carry on a
conversation with someone on another
continent while our glassy eyes barely
register the real live people in our
midst. We can record video snippets
with spectacles while calming the mind
with a brain-sensing headband.
So what makes it OK, or not OK, to
put on a certain wearable? Google Glass
was a distinct lesson in how people
can harshly reject this new category
of technology. Within a year of its
release, backlash included the “Stop
the Cyborgs” anti-Glass campaign, and
the term glasshole arose to castigate
people who wore a device that could
surreptitiously record others. Given
that the social norms and mores
about these devices are just forming,
how does a person decide whether a
particular device should be part of
one’s performance on a particular day
or in a particular setting? These are
Given that the social norms about these
devices are just forming, how does a
person decide whether a particular device
should be part of one’s performance on a
particular day or in a particular setting?
The WEAR Scale Administration and Scoring
Factor 1: Fulfillment of aspirational desires
1. I like what this device communicates
about its wearer.
2. I could imagine aspiring to be like the
wearer of such a device.
3. This device is consistent with my self-image.
4. This device would enhance the
5. The wearer of this device would get a
positive reaction from others.
6. I like how this device shows
membership to a certain social group.
7. This device seems to be useful and
easy to use.
8. This device could help people.
Factor 2: Absence of social fears
9. This device could allow its wearer to
take advantage of people. (R)
10. Use of this device raises privacy
11. The wearer of this device could be
considered rude. (R)
12. Wearing this device could be
considered inappropriate. (R)
13. People would not be offended by the
wearing of this device.
14. This device would be distracting when
The scale is to be administered to
respondents along with photos (or the
wearable itself, if feasible) and a description.
Photos that show placement on the
body should minimize the demographic
characteristics of the model. Additionally:
• The 14 items should be presented in
• Respondents are to answer each item
according to a 6-point Likert scale:
Strongly Agree= 6, Agree= 5, Somewhat
Agree= 4, Somewhat Disagree= 3,
Disagree= 2, Strongly Disagree= 1
• Items marked with an (R) need to be
reversed scored. For example, if the
response to #9 was a 5, it should be
scored as a 2.
• Dividing an individual’s score by 14
provides a mean score that ranges from
1 (extremely low social acceptability) to
6 (extremely high acceptability).
Figure 1. The final scale for evaluating the three wearables.