Wearables and the “Age of Context”

by francine Hardaway on September 11, 2013

I’ve just received an advance copy of Shel Israel and Robert Scoble’s new book “The Age of Context,” scheduled to be published in November. I haven’t read it yet, although I’ve read Marc Benioff’s Foreword. And I wanted to write this before I read it, so that it reflected my personal experience, rather than that of the experts. Why? Because your experience is going to be more like mine than like theirs.


Where We Are Now


I’ve spent the last couple of years trying every wearable I could get my hands on, starting with the early Fitbit and progressing through the JawboneUp, the Nike Fuel Band, the Basis Watch, the Pebble, and most recently the Misfit Shine. I also have Google Glass, and an iPhone with GeoLocation turned on all the time, even at the expense of battery life.


Here’s what I’ve learned:


My resting heart rate is 60 bpm, and that I take between 6000 and 10,000 steps a day, depending on whether I just walk the dogs or I go to the gym. Through all the wearable fitness monitor experiments my behavior has not changed much. I may beat myself up a bit for not going to the gym more often, but I still don’t go. Thus, I have data. I have actionable information. And I have not experienced significant behavior change.


I’ve learned that not every accelerometer is equally accurate. I have no idea whether the Jawbone or the Nike is truer to the number of steps I actually take, but they never register the same number of steps when I wear them together.


With the current generation of devices, I could measure my sleep effectiveness, but I seldom do. I would have to remember to turn on the Jawbone’s sleep function, and I don’t. When I got the first Fibit, I wore it at night and found out I slept between 98-99% effectiveness but I never knew what that meant. It was data. Now what?


Glass is another story. Through Glass, I don’t monitor my effectiveness at anything; I monitor my environment. Unlike common misconceptions, Glass does not take me out of my environment; it puts me here now. Why, because it helps me photograph and video the small, memorable moments of my life that I used to ignore.


Wearing Glass on my face gave me back sunrises and sunsets that I routinely ignored, although I’m out in them every day. I’ve been photographing them, and they look beautiful to me. Glass has also made me aware of my surroundings: I see the park, I see my block, I see my food — in new and exciting ways.


This became apparent to me when Glass broke (all my devices have broken at one time or another and had to be replaced) and I had to send it back to Google to be fixed.) I actually miss it, and it has caused me to think about the place wearables, even in their limited functionality and fragile condition, have taken in my life.


Wearables have made me AWARE. What I choose to do about that, of course, is my own business. But they have placed me more firmly in my context, or my environment, than I was before. I can honestly say they have been a big help to me in my attempt to live in the present.



In health care: When these devices improve, as they will, and as we begin having sensors in our clothes, we will be further made aware of both our insides and our outsides. We will be able to monitor more bodily functions with greater accuracy, and these will be useful to prevent and treat disease. In many ways, the first “wearable” was the Holter Monitor, given to patients who experience changes in heart rhythm. The monitor must be worn for a period of days to “catch” an arrhythmia so it can be diagnosed.


One day very soon we will be sending complete signals back to our providers, who will be “quants” sitting in data centers analyzing what comes back and making decisions about what to “send” back to us to perhaps save lives.


In marketing: We will be inundated by targeted advertising based on geolocation, fitness status, and interests. Everything about us, should we so desire, will be known. We will have endless debates about privacy, ad blockers, and data security. There’s a fight for control coming up. At the end of the day, most consumers won’t care and will find the costs less invasive than the benefits. They’ll trade giving Google all their data in exchange for the ability to photograph sunrises and get directions on the fly, answer their phones in the car without touching them, and find good restaurants in foreign countries.


The government, as it turns out, will also know. Snowden has convinced us of that.

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