Rushing to adopt wearable technology

As usual, with this comic Randall Munroe of xkcd manages to raise several valid points in a humourous and engaging way. When I first read this I grinned and thought of all the furore Facebook endured a few years ago over their shifting privacy policies and settings, and all the fear-mongering that went along with them.

While there was a lot of truth to the point that Facebook did a poor job of communicating its changes, reasoning and purpose, that changed over time and in the end it turned out that most users just didn’t care.

Even when Facebook ran a vote to decide whether users would be able to participate in future decisions about Facebook, there weren’t enough of the more than 1 billion users worldwide who could be bothered to vote on their voting rights.

It will be interesting to see how this question of privacy in technology continues to play out as the leap into the post-mobile world has already begun.

Recently Neal Mohan, Google’s display ad leader, gave a talk in New York where he touched on Google’s expectations for the immediate future. “If you’re building specifically for mobile, you’re in the past” he said.

Obviously Google have a vested interest in the post-mobile world as they’re betting heavily on Glass being a hit. Certainly early reports from users range from positive to somewhat rhapsodic.

Apple are in this space too, although in a slightly less overt way. There’s no question that the future of Siri is closely tied to wearable tech, as the next step beyond simply portable or mobile tech.

Microsoft is investing in voice and gesture based control systems, and there are countless startups working in the space and early innovations like the Leap Motion controller are offering a great deal of promise. But what does it all mean to the consumer?

Right now there are a lot of questions about privacy and security particularly around Glass. Google themselves acknowledge that there are inherent privacy concerns about a camera system that can potentially be activated without the subject knowing. While their official line is that this is why they required a voice or gesture activation, a hacker quickly demonstrated that Glass already contains code to activate the camera with something as subtle as a wink.

From serious concerns to parody videos there are valid questions about the sorts of change we’ll see socially and in business when every interaction can be recorded, potentially without the user knowing.

The short answer is that we don’t really know. People are strange when it comes to technology and if there’s one thing we can learn from the Facebook privacy experience, it’s that they seem to care a lot less about their privacy than you might think, as long as they believe they are gaining enough value from the product.

But none of this belies the underlying truth that’s the thrust of the comic at the top of this post. Companies (as well as private individuals) need to pay attention to the developing role of new and emerging technologies in their daily operations.

It’s not just about effective BYOD policies (although these will play a part), or about private use of technology on company time (which already happens as a routine part of modern working environments). It’s about how we conduct business. How we record our interactions, meetings, communications and then share them with one another.

In the future will all high-level business negotiations need to be conducted in Faraday cages by people who’ve been scanned for wearable tech devices? Will we return to the days of doing business in the sauna as a show of good faith and that we’ve got “nothing to hide”?

Will we all start to assume that every interaction is being recorded and shared and adjust our public interactions accordingly? Will society itself start to contract as we are more guarded when around other people?

Or perhaps we’ll relax even further. Already we ignore the near ubiquitous presence of CCTV and surveillance cameras used in major cities. We don’t pay much attention to the vast number of photos taken with phones around us all the time. We live in a bubble already, and perhaps the expansion of the bubble will result in us all being a little more gracious and forgiving of each other?

However this plays out, Mohan is right that no longer can we expect users, (whether they’re acting on behalf of a corporate entity, or as a private citizen)  to differentiate between online, offline, mobile, tablet, wearable or voice-activated technologies. The divisions between public and private, work and personal, social and professional are all being pushed into new areas of meaning that haven’t yet been defined.

In the short to mid-term this means that in the same way that we as marketers talk about maintaining an omnichannel approach to branding, the consumer’s experience now operates across all platforms depending on what’s most convenient to them at that point in time.

This problem is going to increase friction and frustration for marketers as we’ll need to plough more and more budget into developing the appropriate tools and interactions across this ever-fragmented and fragmenting space. Marketing teams also now need to be a combination of creative and technical specialists who not only understand how to operate existing products, but who are able to pull themselves up to see over the wall and identify what’s coming next.

The successful marketers will be those who find and exploit the technologies and experiences that best suit their customers. While our customers may be using Glass to change the way they view the world, marketers need to be working diligently to make sure the world they present is worthy of the attention of those customers.

by Daniel Wright


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Dominic Byrne DIgital Marketer of the year finalist 2013