Don’t email Kate Unsworth. She won’t get back to you. The CEO of the wearable technology and fashion brand Kovert Designs is a big believer in digital detoxification. That’s the idea behind Altruis, her new smart jewellery that’s designed to cut out the noise and alert you only to the stuff that matters.
“I used to be a management consultant in the tech space and I had clients in Malaysia, in the States, in Europe; I was working round the clock with a virtual team, it was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and I got to the point where I was burned out,” explained Unsworth, her voice leaden with weight just from the thought of it.
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“I turned my phone and my computer off for two weeks. I still worked but I wasn’t contactable, and I felt reborn. I felt more alive. It took to me back to when I spent a few months doing lots of meditation and felt really connected with myself. It was only when I had turned everything off that I realised what I’d been missing.
“If you’re constantly distracted, your thoughts don’t have the time and and you don’t have enough distance from your notifications for your mind to wander and get into more creative areas.”
Unsworth’s suggestion is that we all learn to switch off a little bit more – but for many people, that’s an impossible dream.
We should all learn to switch off – but for many people, that’s an impossible dream
If you’re not familiar with the feeling of reaching for your smartphone or browsing the social networks simply out of habit, then you’re probably in the wrong place. For those that are, that incredible urge can be explained - in a rather frightening way - because it’s something we’ve become anatomically programmed to do.
During Unsworth’s research process in creating what she describes affectionately as “a modern day pager” Kovert spoke to groups of neuroscientists who detailed just how our connected and virtual habits through our smartphones actually physically change the pathways in our brains. Small wonder that it’s so hard to put the damn things down.
“I thought all the technology was making me more connected because I was in touch with my friends all over the world and really tapped in and being superhuman and personable but actually it was the opposite. The technology was making me less human and less connected with myself and absorbing me into this cyberworld and I still feel like that.”
The answer in Altruis was creating a piece of jewellery to connect to the smartphone but also act as a filter for the noise of our connected lives. It’ll buzz you with notifications according to a set of custom rules on the accompanying iOS app. If you don’t want to hear from Facebook, fine. If you only want to know if certain people are trying to contact you, then that’s okay too.
Cutting the crap
Altruis will even only pass on the message should it detect certain predetermined keywords, and that means that you don’t have to keep looking at you mobile, reaching for your bag to see what’s going on or leaving one eye on your touchscreen while you should be focusing on the person in front of you, as Unsworth explains.
“It’s about cutting through the crap and remembering what’s important because I don’t need to check Instagram 20 times a day. It doesn’t add anything to my life. It makes me distracted and it makes me a worse version of myself. It lets you remain focused on your goals and very present in the conversations you have with people,” she said.
“We’re not telling everyone to disconnect. As long as we give people the option. I want to empower people to be able to take that decision back into their own hands.”
Kovert has gone to great pains to make sure that Altruis stayed true to that core vision. Saying no to the functional brilliance of what the engineers could come up with for a smartphone-connected wearable was just part of the reason behind the six-month delay in bringing this uniquely good-looking wearable to market.
The stone itself is where the technology lies, and the good news is that you can remove it from the ring or necklace setting that you bought with it and slip it into another accessory of your choice.
“The modularity was really difficult to get right,” a beaming Unsworth confides. “It was important to me, though. This is a premium product.
If I buy a $900 Tom Ford and Altruis bracelet, and then we replace the technology a year later, I don’t want to have to buy another $900 piece of jewellery
"If I buy a $900 Tom Ford and Altruis bracelet, and then we replace the technology a year later, I don’t want to have to buy another $900 piece of jewellery.”
With the same feature Kovert has also managed to address the tricky ground of taste. An attractive wearable is all very well and good but we get bored with our garments. We want to change our clothes and there’s no fun going round wearing the exact same device that everyone else is; not a problem with the accessories are plenty and the core unit interchangeable.
“In the summer, I might want to wear some Buddha beads with my Altruis stone hanging off the bottom but, in the winter, I’d want to wear a big top and ring instead or a wristband for when I’m picking the kids up from school,” she explained.
Going modular is the future
As Unsworth alluded, modularity is not an easy thing to implement. The stone had to be easy to remove but not so easy that it shakes around or falls out. It meant testing the different metals to make sure that the fit didn’t change when it got hot or cold or when it rubbed up against other materials. And, of course, the beauty of the design couldn’t in any way interfere with the antenna within the stone; crucial for a stable connection with your mobile. They got there in the end.
On the tech side of the equation, Kovert certainly seems to have a handle on things. There are alert profiles available on most smartphones but that doesn’t mean we use them and they’re not customisable to the keyword level like Altruis is.
What’s more, those buzzings only work if you’ve got your phone in your pocket, which is fine for a man but not always the case for a women; probably the reason why Unsworth started out with the female side of the business. Besides, neither Samsung, Sony, Motorola nor LG have quite found a smartwatch attractive enough for a lady’s wrist.
Kovert will be launching a leather wristband Altruis product for men in the New Year but that’s about as far as Unsworth is happy to go for the time being with no immediate plans to get into the smartwatch business:
“I think any sane person would rather have a beautifully made Swiss watch that they’ve spent years refining but, further down the line, probably a year from now, the Altruis stone will be half the size and suddenly you’re more flexible with forms like buttons and cuff-links,” she said.
For Unsworth herself, she’s currently sporting the white stone with rose gold look. As a former model, she probably knows something about fashion.