When it was first announced in September of 2014, one of the features that Apple touted about its smartwatch was the new ways in which watch owners could communicate with each other. The limited real estate of the device’s screen meant that Apple was forced to get creative with the ways in which Apple Watch owners could interact with the device.
Viewers of the event were more than aware of the “creepy” live emojis that graced the device. Apple also touted the ForceTouch (now 3D Touch) technology which allowed the device to respond to pressure with which the screen was touched. One of the
most gimmicky coolest features of the device, according to Apple, was the ability to communicate with other Apple Watch users using a proprietary technology called Digital Touch.
Digital Touch allowed users to draw pictures, using a limited palette of colors, and was intended to act as a rudimentary, but fun means of communicating with friends. Want to go grab lunch? Draw a question mark to your lunch buddy, and have him draw what looks like a primitive fish back to signify that you should eat seafood. At the time I remember thinking that it seemed like an interesting, but very limited way of communicating.
Apple wasn’t done, not by a long shot. They wanted the Apple Watch to be the most personal device that they had ever created, and they intended to do that by further enhancing Digital Touch. Not only could you draw pictures, but you could also “tap” the screen, which created minute bubbles that grew outwards before popping and dissolving into digital dust on your friend’s device. Additionally, the final piece of the Digital Touch puzzle, according to Apple designer Jony Ive was the ability to press on the Apple Watch’s screen with two fingers and send your heartbeat to your friend.
Later iterations of iOS enhanced the platform and brought additional options: send fireballs, lips, and (limited) multi-color pictures. My wife, my brother, and my mother all had watches, so it was a fun way to just draw stuff or send quick little animated messages with little content or substance. It never really caught on in our circle however, and after about three months of iOS 10's release, the feature was rarely used by any of us. That changed three weeks ago.
Three weeks ago my younger sister passed away after her three year battle with Small Cell Carcinoma of the Ovary with Hypercalcaemia. A week prior to that, her primary oncologist, after myriad rounds of surgeries/treatments, had given her a prognosis of three to six months. This had many of us in the family scouring the web to find all of the clinical trials that she would qualify for.
Our plan of attack was: cast a wide net, find thehospital that had the most promising trial, get her in, and then come up with the funds to get her there.
My sister remained resilient despite the prognosis. She was determined to beat this thing, and she began to send her medical records to doctors at some of the leading institutions in ovarian cancer research. Then things took a turn for the worst. Her state deteriorate, unexpectedly, overnight. My parents rushed her to the hospital where it was determined that her calcium levels were off the charts and her liver was close to failure. Medication brought her calcium levels down, and allowed her cognitive faculties to return to her. When she was lucid she had one request for my parents: she wanted to go home.
My mother spoke with the hospice case worker, and we arranged for my sister to be transported, via ambulance, to my parents’ house, so that she could rest for her final days in her own bed, in the room where she grew up.
So it was that we stayed by her side for those days, all three of them. The first day wasn’t so bad, as she was lucid, laughing, and even able to spend a good deal of time talking with family and friends. The remaining two days were far more difficult as we watch her slowly fade with each passing minute. On her final night, we, her immediate family, sat huddle around her holding her hand and singing Disney songs (her favorites) to her.
About an hour before she passed, I witnessed my brother do something that, at the time, had me scratching my head. He removed his Apple Watch from his wrist, and placed it on my sister’s wrist. I didn’t question him at the time, as we were all absorbed in the moment, each of us mentally preparing ourselves for her passing.
When she finally passed we grieved. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I had known this woman for all thirty years of her life, and now I was having to say goodbye. The pain I felt that morning, the pain that still rests within me, hurts more than any other pain I have ever had to endure.
Later on the day of her passing, as I was going to lie down in the hopes that sleep would ease some of the hurt, my Apple Watch vibrated. I raised it to my face and found a text from my brother. It read:
Her heartbeat. When you need her, she’s always here.
A digital touch message followed it, and I felt it, my sister’s heartbeat, pulsing against my wrist.
I know that some could easily make the argument that all I am really feeling is the watch vibrating in response to a series of 1's and 0's interpreted by an algorithm in response to my sister’s heartbeat, but in this case, I don’t care about those types of technicalities.
To me, this is a small fragment of her that I can keep with me at all times.
It’s funny, when the Apple Watch was released, I found little use for Digital Touch. At that time, the fitness aspects, the up-to-date notifications, the hands free capabilities, those were the features that I longed for out of a wearable device. I do still use my watch for all of those other features, but none of those features come close to being my favorite feature.
No, my favorite feature is the one that I use when I am overcome, unexpectedly by a moment of grief, or when a childhood memory migrates to the forefront of my mind. In those moments, when I am both the saddest I have ever been because I have lost someone so dear to me, but simultaneously happy that I got to spend thirty years with such an amazing sister, it’s nice to feel her heart beating on my wrist.
It almost feels like she is right here with me, just like old times.