Terms like Wearable Technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) have forced itself into the mainstream. In this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, IoT was all the rage. Connected toothbrushes, home audio systems and thermostats were showcased. Early adopters have embraced products like Google Glass, and there is even now a backlash in some places against the use of Google Glass.
As I think about uses for such devices, particularly a product like Google Glass or a Samsung smart watch, it makes me think of a possible use case from my own experience, and whether we’d really want such a use case.
A few years back, I had a job that I commuted to in San Francisco. Living about 15 miles away, I would take public transportation on the Caltrain to the last stop in SF and then walk about 25 minutes one way to my office. Typically taking the same train each day at the same time, I would always be making my walk to the office from 8:00 AM to 8:30 AM. I would take the same route each day and would pass hundreds of pedestrian commuters walking the other direction. I would often see the same people passing me each day, as they most likely were taking a commuter bus that arrived at the stop at the same time each day but further north, and they would be walking south to their particular office. One particular guy, I’d pass at the exact same spot each time and over time, we’d see each other, give eye contact, and do a solid head nod. This become such a clear part of the commuting routine, that one day when I passed him ten minutes later than normal, we looked at each other with puzzled looks on our face. He either missed his bus and caught the next one or his bus was delayed, but something was clearly amiss. But the routine always held true- no words ever spoken, no smiles, no decrease in our walking pace, but without fail, the acknowledgement head nod.
I eventually changed jobs and had a new commute that wasn’t in the city. I never spoke to that guy, never found out who he was. Now, when I think of Google Glass and the applications that may emerge from such products, I can envision some sort of futuristic identification notification. As you walk by a person also wearing such device, would a notification pop up saying the person’s name, occupation, and nationality? Perhaps their Linkedin profile would show up? As someone who is a frequent professional networker, if that guy was in a similar field as I, would I want the opportunity to leverage our common commute as a networking opportunity? Now, you can take this to more nefarious Big Brother levels which would certainly be a concern, but this use case will be focused on an opt in Linkedin application and notification. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily need a wearable device to make it happen, simple smartphones could do the same thing. But oftentimes a phone is in a pocket or if you are in a cold city, you want to have your hands warmed in a pocket and not have your hands, even gloved ones, exposed to the elements
As I ask my self would I opt-in to such an IoT application, I think back to my commuting example. As a whole, I definitely wouldn’t want my identification notification to pop up for all commuters. A minimum level of privacy I would need. And even across Linkedin as a whole, I wouldn’t want an identity notification to show up for all Linkedin users. If we were meant to network, it could certainly happen the old fashioned way, through introductions from friends of friends and contacts of contacts. Now, the one case I could see myself opting in to, would be for specialized groups that I belong to. For example, I’d be open to having a notification to other alumni of Indiana University as I pass by that I went to the same university as that person. Possibly even for sports team, if I pass a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, I may want to acknowledge that as I pass by. Particularly knowing that there aren’t many Cincinnati fans in San Francisco, it’s always nice to acknowledge the few common fans you do meet.
It’s an interesting dilemma and I certainly believe this is the way things are headed. With Linked and Facebook for example, user identification and interests and preferences may be available in an instant, right in front of your eyes through a Google Glass product whether you like it or not. Now, I do believe it will start as opt-in, but as we’ve seen with the way these products evolve, privacy norms start to decline and they may become a given and possibly a default setting. I hope it doesn’t get to that point, and I’ll have to really think what I’d tolerate, but I do believe I’d embrace certain niche use cases. I give this three years before we see the first examples of this use case!