Where Do You Fit in The Age of Context?

by francine Hardaway on September 19, 2013

This is far from an unbiased book review. If you know anything about me, you know that I love and use bleeding edge technology: from apps that look at my skin and tell me my heartbeat, to the band on my arm that counts my steps and tells me how well I sleep at night, to the Google Glass on my face, to the 3-D printer in my home, I’m a human experiment. And I am not alone. At least two other people are on this journey to the future with me, both friends of mine, both geeks like I am.

The Age of Context is a term you’ve probably never heard before, unless you know Shel Israel and Robert Scoble, both of whom have been using it for about a year. Whether you’ve heard of it or not, you are already feeling its effects. Each year, placing you in the right context becomes more and more important to brands who are trying to sell you something, insurance companies who are trying to find out what kind of driver you are so they can raise or lower your premiums, and health care providers who are now incentivized to keep you out of their offices.

But all of this is nothing to what’s coming. And that’s what Robert and Shel talk about in their new book “The Age of Context,” a book I wish I had written, and a book I know you must read.

We all operate in many different contexts: temporal, geographic, age-related, gender and role-related. When you are in the supermarket, you’re in the context of consumer or shopper, as opposed to when you are at work, in the context of professional.

Context is where you fit in relation to what’s around you.

You used to be the only one with this awareness, but now the products and devices you interact with not only magnify your awareness, but place you in a larger context. You may already have a smartphone with a geolocation capability, and it can locate you at any given time. You may also wear a Jawbone or a Nike+ band that measures your steps and puts you in the context of other people who are also trying to get fit. If you have the Foursquare App on your phone, you already know that when you check in to a restaurant, you can often unlock a special offer. Now you are a diner.

Scoble and Israel define the five key concepts that have begun to operate all at once to change the way you interact with your environment, and even more startling, how your environment interacts with you.

The first of these is sensors. Almost every device around you has sensors. My microwave’s sensors tell it how long to cook something I place inside. My JawboneUp has a sensor that tells it when I take a step.

The second is big data. Big data isn’t anything new. In fact, what’s new about the current role of big data is only our ability to analyze it; to pull out relevant facts we need to know: how many steps do I take compared to all the other people who wear the JawboneUp? All the other women? All the other people my age?

The third is maps, and with them geolocation and geo-fencing (drawing a “fence” around the area you are passing through so a merchant can locate you and make you an offer.)

The fourth is the Internet of Things, in which you learn to live in a world in which your phone talks to your air conditioning system, your home security system and your lights — operating them when you are not present to save you time and energy.

And the fifth is 3-D printing, which is changing manufacturing by enabling rapid prototyping and small, individualized batches — like Invisalign braces.

Or maybe it’s social media, which underlies all of this.

Scoble and Israel do a beautiful job of explaining the importance of these new trends and how they are likely to cause conversations about privacy, convenience, transparency, and safety. Among the many strong points of this book is their ability to relate these trends to their own lives and those of their own families — Shel’s wife who is a late adopter of new technology, and Robert’s family, already living in the future he envisions.

Their book belongs to a genre that doesn’t exist: science fact. Unlike science fiction, science fact is here now. The Age of Context is upon us. Better read the book.

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