Social Analytics goes physical

Thanks to Jonathan Rotner for pointing me toward H. James Wilson’s Wall Street Journal article on analytics in the real world, Wearable Gadgets Transform how Companies do Business. Wilson’s piece is a fascinating example of mediocracy, with the kind of data collection we have come to expect and companies expect to exploit in the Internet making their gradual debut into the physical world beyond our net. Wilson features the Hitachi Business Microscope, which hangs on a lanyard around the neck just like a conference badge, evaluating who you talk to, how often you gesture and essentially how you surf through and interact with the real world, just as cookies might uncover such behavior on the Internet. Network analysis yields fruit concerning whom you interact with in your corporation, and who you seem to ignore. Do you interact more excitedly with some colleagues and become terse with other team members? This is reminiscent of the data collection that would make David Eggers’ Circle firm snap up the new device in the interests of behavioral transparency.  Wilson also mentions smart glasses, Google Glass-like devices that become your (third?) eyes, ensuring you pick up the right package and don’t fail to look at the right spot when doing your job. The data mining that all this data could afford boggles the mind- and of course it has the benefit and danger of identifying and eliminating outlier behavior, making our society perhaps more boring and certainly more predictable. 


One of the themes I bring up repeatedly in Robot Futures is in regards to power relationships. These devices can be wondrous in providing mindful reflection– if the data were to come right back to the wearer. But when the data flows to the employer, or some outside social analytics consultancy, then the word of the day is likely to be disempowerment. How will we use these new technologies to improve feelings of self-worth rather than gnawing away at personal autonomy, uniqueness and personal control? There’s the challenge.


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