When I was a teenager, even a bit older, I was very concerned about the effect of technology on privacy. We had discussed and imagined payment systems that would magically take money at the click of a button or a touch of a credit card (unusually we hadn’t imagined mobile phones).
I had problems with this, if all our payments came from a card they could be tracked and that info could be handed to the government, it all seemed very 1984. To this day cash is my preferred method of payment but I have to admit I sometimes find it easier to touch my card to a screen than rifle around in my purse for change.
Although my friends and I had imagined payments in the future we hadn’t anticipated the world wide web. The younger me would probably be horrified how much privacy I’m willing to give away in exchange for information. I’d also be horrified at the middle-class woman I’d become who has no problem tapping my credit card on a device to pay for stuff.
So last week when I attended InspireFest half of me was in shock at the possible future, the other half of me was pretty convinced that I’d soon happily be handing over more of me in exchange for innovation.
Robin Chase the founder of Zipcar hosted one of the most interesting panels of the day. She spoke enthusiastically about how the collaborative economy (or excess capacity as she called it) could change the world.
I like the concept of excess capacity. I use Airbnb when I travel although I’m not sure if this is excess capacity. I suspect that many of the flats I’ve stayed in were bought for the purpose of renting on Airbnb, that’s almost like being a hotel isn’t it?
I also use Dublin bikes at least once a week and had the pleasure of using Boston’s bike scheme when I was visiting last year. I would use Zipcar rather than own a car if they were available in my part of the world.
My problem with this tech is that it does, by necessity track me. Airbnb can tell you about my recent holidays, who I went with and if I’m a good guest. I bet it even has an algorithm somewhere trying to anticipate my next stay.
Dublin bikes know I’m in Dublin, they know when I check in and out of the bike stations and they know which ones I use most frequently. With all this info it surprises me they aren’t able to distribute bikes so there are more spaces when you arrive and more availability when you leave. That would be a worthy sacrifice of my privacy.
If you dive further into the collaborative economy you can imagine there is a pretty comprehensive picture being built about you and your movements. What happens if those companies merge or if a government agency requests information on you?
I’m not sure it’s scarier than social media but until that panel discussion I hadn’t thought about it much. Perhaps I should have.
The fear didn’t end there…
Mark Curtis from fjord talked about the wonders of virtual reality, his story of painting in 4D VR was mind-blowing, He talked about pulling the brush towards himself creating a line of paint in the air that he could walk around.
“You wonder what Picasso would have done with this.”
I love this, I love to think about what we can do, what can we create with the new tools we’ve been given. Although Mark was inspiring, one moment that stood out was his description of going to the pub using Google maps.
On the way to meet friends Google maps told him not just how long it would take to reach the pub but it also buzzed to inform him it would be closed when he got there. Pretty cool huh… but, then he imagined a time in the near future when Google would be able to recommend another local pub that ‘did better beer anyway’.
This rang alarm bells and reminded me of the paranoid teen I used to be. If we allow Google to ‘suggest’ and control our lives like this we’ll become even more entrenched in our bubbles.
We already create bubbles around us full of our own reality. In my bubble people in the UK were sure to remain in Europe in the recent referendum. Imagine my shock when I woke to the news that the country had voted to leave. The Facebook algorithm had a part to play too, it’s programmed to show me more content it thinks I will like, even if this is confirming my Brexit bias.
Technology and human nature make it hard to break out of our bubbles. If Google, Facebook or any other company has enough control over our movement and our preferences, our bubbles will get smaller. We’ll only go to pubs that sell the beer we like, we’ll shop in stores that reflect our ‘individuality’ but never see beyond a small scope of what individuality means.
I don’t want my bubble to get smaller, I want to start punching holes in it.
Let’s not forget about the banks
There are bank branches now that have free wifi, coffee and no pressure to buy. They are designed to be a cool place to hang out. In fact one of the finance panel at Inspirefest had inadvertently wandered into one thinking it was a coffee shop. This amuses me, I’ve been struggling to close a bank account recently. Perhaps if they got the little things right I’d trust them more and be open to this new approach. At the moment I’d just like the basics.
This post sounds very anti-tech but I love technology. I know I couldn’t function as well as I do without it. The teen just nags at the back of my mind telling me to be careful.
The good news
There were many wonderful stories during the day that showed how tech has really enhanced our lives.
Lisa Helen shared her ‘smart needle’ innovation that she compared to a parking assist for anaesthetics. Donal Holland showed us how soft robots that are saving lives. And Mary Carty from Outbox Incubator introduced us to the female innovators of the future.
The teenage me might be disgusted with the information I’ve willingly given away, but I’m happy with my choices so far. In 20 years time perhaps I’ll look back at the 40 something me and wonder what I was so worried about. I really hope so.