A friend of mine uses Google Glass to record her painting process, and she uses the phrase “shortening time between intention and action” to describe wearable technologies. It’s a powerful change to suddenly not need to reach for our phone and lower our gaze to search for something, capture a memory, or discover new information. It is a paradigm shift in human behavior.
In The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman ponders the most recent technologies and their repurcussions. He writes, “Couple the use of full-body motion and gestures with high-quality auditory and visual displays that can be superimposed over the sounds and sights of the world to amplify them, to explain and annotate them, and we give to people power that exceeds anything ever known before.” Using hands-free devices means that we are much closer to our natural behavior and that much closer to technology easily and fully integrating into our lives. I’m most excited for the possibilities of apps like Field Trip, that can enhance our experience in the city with useful information.
I’m reminded of Marshall McCluhan’s theory that the nature of the media by which we communicate shapes our society more than the content itself: “The Medium is the Message”. McCluhan spoke of the environments of the electronic age as an invisible, pervasive multi-dimensional space. His predictions couldn’t be more relevant in this era of ubiquitous computing. Will behavior changes resulting from new technologies improve our lives, or be a distraction or worse?
On display at Digital Revolution yesterday at the Barbican, (besides Lady Gaga’s flying dress) there were examples of clothing and beauty products embedded with technology to communicate the wearer’s personal data. This really will be “Big Data”, with massive benefits for people selling our most intimate details. Companies with Internet of Things (IoT) products are having trouble creating storage systems to house the treasure troves of data they are collecting from their customers.
However, with great power comes great responsibility. Thinking about the implications of data collection will hopefully help us move past the wow factor. As Bruce Sterling said in his closing remarks at SXSW last year, we must not forget about history in the scramble towards the future. He cautioned, “We don’t just play and experiment: we kill.”
There are people are doing good things with big data. One example is the rapid development of sequencing of the genome, which according to the KPCB report, “will be at the heart of a new paradigm of precision medicine that is evidence based and rooted in quantitative science”. There will be giant leaps ahead in medicine, investment, driving and quantified living, but also giant leaps ahead for marketers and advertisers who will seemingly be inside our brains offering their products at exactly the moment they think we want them. There are even more scary things underfoot as well, such as these nine companies you’ve never heard of that probably know more about you than your closest friends. Big data from IoT will add exponentially to these mounds of personal data that strangers are collecting from us, and that might be enough to make some of us want to run and hide. But this is the future and it’s not going away.
This is also where the money is going. In the tech world recently I’ve noticed a sharp increase in funding for early stage IoT startups.
While there are evident drawbacks to wearable tech and IoT with privacy issues and evil uses of our data, the potential for sincere life improvement is great. Simultaneous, pervasive relationships with technology will allow seamless integration into our lives, informing us of things we didn’t even know we needed to know.
In the near future I’d like to see the Frog prediction come true, “the consumer will own data” – otherwise it feels like we’re getting lots of corporations like Google and Facebook rich with little in return. How do we get there? Well, it’s time put our heads together and figure it out.