Whether it was a great new idea that you signed up to when you first saw it, or the app just appeared when you updated your software, you are at the mercy of your own devices. How far down the road to augmentation are you? And what could the implications be?
The trouble with recommended services is they suggest things you already like. Service providers and product sellers need you to want their thing so, if they know you like a style, fashion, colour, material or programme, by pushing more of the same to you, there’s a good chance you’ll increase your consumption.
Predictive text, grammar suggestions, Grammarly, Yoast – the list goes on. If you respond to that red line under a word, or adjust the word you thought you wanted to use for another option, you’re responding to suggestion. Now you’d think that accurate spelling and correct grammar are good things to encourage, but when the syntax and sentiment are altered without a full consideration of the context, is that really the case?
Concierged clothing is a thing. Sign up for a monthly supply of wardrobe refreshments and you will never look back. Being able to filter your colour, style and fit sounds great, until the detail you’re specifying starts getting down to the thread count of the fabric.
Recommendations are based on what the system knows about you. In time, this is likely to include a 3D/360° scan and virtual fitting process, but not yet. Even if you hate shopping for clothes, how much of what came in the mail would you have bought in a store?
We all do it. Sit down with Netflix, Apple TV, Sky, Virgin or whatever, and flick. ‘Based on your viewing history, we think you’d like…’.
So we watch a re-run. It’s safe, familiar, unchallenging, perfectly acceptable – but it’s not enough. Although the machine learning that gets to know us will make recommendations, the overwhelming amount of choice makes us less likely to take a chance on something new, and go back to our favourite episodes of Friends.
- Reading and shopping
No, I know these aren’t the same things but…
Amazon is the master at bundling and upselling. ‘Popular items you may like, news for you, inspired by your wish list, recommendations for you in books, additional items to explore…’
Everything I’ve ever looked at on Amazon is spun back to me in an endless list: things I didn’t buy yesterday but might buy today. Do I? Of course I do, and so do you.
‘Your route to work today will take 33 minutes’ and will drift you past the Starbucks you visit most often. Really? Yep. Don’t be surprised. This is a baby step towards removing you from the decision-making process that autonomous vehicles will be able to fully satisfy.
By trusting your mapping software of choice, you absolve yourself of the responsibility to think about where the bottlenecks might be. We used to know where the rat-runs and back-doubles and short-cuts were. Now too often we sit in traffic because we trusted Maps to tell us what to do next. The red line on the map tells us how long we’ll be delayed, and we can work out the impact on our day – but often we just sit there. After all, it’s easier than reading a paper map or thinking about it too much.
Your view of the world shifts according to where you are when you read, watch or listen to the news, as well as what you choose to consume. There’s nothing new in this. Regional news has always told a different story to a national or international perspective. But lock yourself into a limited news feed, and bias occurs.
By giving ourselves up to digital media, and acknowledging that we may be fed content based on our search history, we’re unconsciously submitting to a limited perspective that becomes self-fulfilling. If you want an example of this, consider the row over Cambridge Analytica and its alleged influence on the last US Presidential election.
- Track time
Your diary changes constantly and people drop things into your day all the time. Are you popular, important or just available? OK, so an app on your laptop can track how long you were ‘focused’ this week, but is measuring productivity in this way helpful?
Being in demand in corporate life justifies our salary, and removes the responsibility for us to work on our own priorities and objectives. Happily, the company time logger is also tracking you, so at appraisal time you can agree with HR that you were way too busy to get more done.
Drop every food item you eat into your app. Tell the cloud when you drink. Ask your supermarket to drop off weekly staples and top up your list with special offers to give the family a bit of breakfast variety.
If this is you, your whole nutritional intake is being monitored and you gave the information away for free. In another context, this is primary research that companies have spent billions over the years in trying to record.
Why do we do this? Because we’re told it’s good to drink more and we need a prompt to do it. But the choice we then make between a stimulant, an energy source or simple hydration is complex. We consume messages by the minute about drinking options. We forget that drinking water is not about gratification, it’s about maintaining a normal healthy state.
Food distribution is going through a paradigm shift right now, and your data is helping to design it. Who is this going to benefit? You decide.
- Voice control
‘Alexa, turn volume up to level 3. Siri, order my toothpaste.’
Making use of new tech is brilliant for cutting down on the effort we need to put into anything: loading music, making a phone call, buying stuff, sending a text. And if that was as far as it went, everybody wins. But of course, that’s not the end of it. Back to data.
Gathering data, analysing it, creating products based on your behaviours, and pushing new product ideas at you is what’s going on. You’re complicit in the design of the product being offered, and probably unconscious of the terms you agreed to when you plugged in the device that listens to your family’s most private moments.
To say that mobile technology has revolutionised human relationships is no over-statement.
We communicate with each other much more than was possible before the advent of mobile phones. Whether you’re in the camp that feels people are too wedded to their phones, or whether you can’t imagine a world without them, there’s no denying we all behave differently because of them.
Face-to-face meetings may happen as often as they ever did, but communications have multiplied. We text, share, message, and send signals about our state of health, wealth, social ambition and availability. Our networks are global and our ability to access community around the world unprecedented.
Being nudged, prompted and pushed is just part of what we do now. But how conscious of the implications are you, when you’re part of the conversation?
Seeing it differently. Future proofing. It’s what we do.