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Exploring the Social Impact of a Wearable Era

 

Amanada Parkes:Redj Snodgrass

“Facebook buys Oculus. Intel buys Basis,” said Goodwin Procter’s Stephen Davis, whose law firm hosted New York’s first Wearable Wednesday. A good week to kick off the event, which is now going to be monthly, according to organizer Paul Farkas.

“We’re only just now coming to grips with what wearable is and what it means to our lives,” said Foursquare’s David Ban, who heads up mobile and wearables partnerships for the company. “Service and platform are driving innovation and will be for quite some time. Hardware and partnerships will be the differentiator, but the hardware still has a ways to go.”

Then again, the now five-year-old Foursquare has come a long way since the early days of simple check-ins.

“Not everyone will strap on Google Glass and wear it around the streets tomorrow, “ he assured us.

It’s on the other side of connected/wearable devices where Foursquare comes in.

“It’s what we do with the data,” he noted. “Fitbit knows you were at four bars the night before. Foursquare can recommend a coffee shop the next morning.”

“Creating moments of magic” to users, is the way Ban put it. “People say we’ll be wearing four to five devices on our wrists. I hope not…”

john havens

“Descartes said, ‘I think therefore I am,’” said John Havens, founder, The H(app)athon Project and author of Hacking Happiness,  who was next up at the podium. “Now it’s ‘I sync, therefore I am.’   We live in a personal data economy  - we give our data away. We don’t want to read the terms & conditions. We have sensors all around us.”

In Havens’ view of the impact of wearables, connected ice cubes in your beverage would turn from yellow to red when you’ve had a bit too much. He also invoked the Wingman Act, which is the concept that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander, so if someone you were with does overdo it a bit, drives drunk and does harm to someone who him/herself, does the wingman bear some responsibility in our connected world?

Or would the ice cube automatically text a taxi cab?

“(Connected devices do) give new meaning to ‘does this person make my heart skip a beat,’ Havens offered. “ “It’s quantifiable.”

There is a practical side to connected devices, of course,

“People love the ability of knowing where they parked their car,” noted one of the panelists.

“What’s missing from in the wearable world is fabrications and designs around the body,” said Amanda Parkes, Chief of Technology & Research, at Manufacture NY and Visiting Scientist, MIT Media Lab. “The technology is coming from tech, not designers.” Once designers and textiles enter the mix, “we’ll see a whole new level of invisibility,” she suggested.

Invisibility?

“Part of me is a little creeped out,” said blogger Amy Vernon, “You check into all these bars, and your identity is tied to it. Now we’re talking about health and fitness data. It’s good information for you to have, (as long as) the data is not being used to sell you stuff – or for something more nefarious. It’s one thing if it’s free – you give up stuff. But people are shelling out a lot of money for wearables. Sharing Fitbit information with your doctor is fine, but there’s a fine line here and we don’t know where that line is yet. Given human nature, it will be used to sell us stuff or worse. Like Gattaca – you’re born, but your life has already been decided for you. There are some really cool things, but it’s all very creepy, too. And who’s interpreting the data? You can prove two different things with the same data sets.”

“Technology is the god that limps,” Redg Snodgrass of Wearable World chimed in. “You’ll make my life convenient, fine, but then take my data and sell it to China?”

“In my gut I know this is where crypto currency will come in,” said moderator Paul Farkas.

Chris Grayson, founder of a wearable startup still in stealth mode, was last up, with a presentation cataloguing a brief history of surveillance.

“Public sector security – police devices – will be one of the largest verticals,” he began. “Face tracking and facial recognition. There are 420,000 cameras in London, which is the most heavily surveilled city, with their Ring of Steel.”

No one knows precisely how many video cameras there are in New York City, but one statistic is known: according to the Justice Policy Institute, the police have killed more than 50,000 innocent civilians since 9/11. So who’s watching the watchers? Grayson noted that with all of those cameras on, the incidence of police violence has dropped. Then again, civilians now carry cameras as well.

We’re still very much in the nascent days of wearable tech and there’s no question about the social impact it will have. Better to address these issues early on, and often. If technology is the god who limps, wearable tech is potentially very much the beast who’s slouching towards Bethlehem.

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About the author: Bonnie Halper

Bonnie Halper is Editor-in-Chief of AlleyWatch and also writes and curates the StartupOneStop.com newsletter, which focuses on startups and entrepreneurs, and is currently being read in 50+ countries around the world.

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