Augmentation

In the last few weeks I’ve joined the millions of people who need the support of something external to carry out their daily lives.

For me, it’s just reading glasses.

But getting my head around needing these, remembering to wear them, having to carry them around with me, has been a very unusual and disconcerting experience. (I’ve needed them for a while but ignored the need. Then I got them and hardly wore them. Then suddenly in SF a few weeks back my vision threw a hissy fit and I’ve been wearing them solidly at my desk since. And it feels better, easier, like it’s needed.)

Weird for me having to depend on something just to see properly.

Weird that if I left them at home, my work would be much harder.

As human augmentation goes though this is pretty pedestrian stuff, I know.

Two weeks ago I had a meeting in the same San Francisco office building where a Google Glass team is located. A guy had a pair around his neck in the elevator. A young woman had a pair on as she crossed the street as I walked away. As if it were normal (which soon it will be, in some parts of the world).

And then a colleague asked me to pick her pair up from our NYC office on my latest transatlantic trip. Sci-fi tipping into every day life.

All of this got me thinking about augmentation again.

Wearable tech has been hyped in the recent year as the big investable area. The new new. It makes sense to me that as the value that we get from the network continues to rapidly grow and the technology continues to rapidly shrink, we will all be augmented further – more than through glasses and pacemakers, more than by our companion smart devices and nearby screens.

For my own experimenting I decided to get one of those exercise band things too – a Jawbone UP at the advice of Drew Benvie and Stephen Davies.

It’s relatively humble experiment about personal data, about data and behaviour, and about augmentation.

The early signs are interesting. I walked further than normal today, because I was (temporarily?) more conscious of taking steps – the main currency the UP band takes note of.

I now have some data on my sleep last night, and my sleeping has been inconsistent with all the travel and time zones I experience at the moment. So that might be enlightening to observe.

But what is perhaps most interesting and indicative of the way things will go is plugging my band into my phone and seeing them talk to one another about my movements – me, the fleshy host, hot, stupid and inconsistent; them the cold robotic collectors of data, computing my movements, ‘motivating’ with colourful charts and smiley faces.

Me and the tech, as part of a little personal ecosystem.

So in the last few weeks I’ve found my every day self being a little more augmented. Both by need and by choice. And I find myself feeling that augmentation is an interesting part of the next phase.

And if all of this is a bit tame for you, here some further questions rolling around the back of my un-augmented brain:

  • What would it be like if my family all had this kind of data-gathering, and we shared our information with one another?
  • When will we go from wearing to hardwired, and why?
  • The feeling of becoming accustomed to a crutch, to something integral, is interesting – does anyone know of any models from academic research that describe this transition to ‘dependency’?
  • Can any of this help solve the great problems of our time and if so how?

4 comments

  1. Tim Aldiss (@timaldiss)

    Brilliant Will, and I don’t think I’ve read anyone express quite so well the first steps towards that fusion.

    I have to say (but then I would) that it’s all very sci fi! Isn’t it amazing that all the amazing stories and things that we invent at the furthest stretch of our imaginations seem to eventually come to being. What a wonderful world the technological is. What on earth happened to the rest of it!

  2. Beth Granter (@bethgranter)

    On family and solving problems… Me and some of my friends use a period tracker app. It depends on you to input symptoms etc. and it tells you when your period is due. It’s also connected to a kind of forum where symptoms and remedies can be discussed with strangers who share them. My friend’s boyfriend has a paired app with hers, which tells them both when she is fertile.

  3. Scott Lawson

    Are we creating problems or are we solving them? i.e if we have devices monitoring everything are we going to be focussed on what they’re displaying, or what we’re feeling, which our bodies already tell us. Mindfulness is becoming a big “thing” in the West, despite being so in the East for a very long time, which is pretty much the opposite of wearable tech. People often turn to mindfulness and meditation because of being overwhelmed by modern society.

    Tech that doctors can use that can detect early signs of cancer and other diseases I see as very beneficial. But the more we are “connected”, the more “disconnected” we become to other people.

    I think we’re at a tipping point where tech is either going to really improve our lives, or we’re going to become slaves to our own (electronic) devices.

  4. Pingback: Five things on Friday #63 | whatleydude

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