Big Brother and My Activity Tracker

I received my first wearable mobile device for Christmas: a Jawbone UP24 activity tracker bracelet (“your friend-in-fitness”). This little thing counts my steps and monitors my sleep patterns. Via Bluetooth, it continuously communicates with a companion smartphone app, which interprets and displays my data. The app also lets me enter my weight and food intake, log workouts, and optionally connect to a bunch of third-party apps and devices. Cool!

So far, it’s telling me what I already knew: I don’t get enough sleep and I don’t get enough exercise. The value-add is the short messages the app displays, based on my data, to urge me on to better habits – some of which can be translated to bracelet reminders: vibrations that prompt me, for example, to get up and move or to go to bed.

The idea is that it will motivate me to change my behavior (Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model, cells 3 and 6!). So far I’m seeing some evidence for this, but only time will tell, as I’m pretty set in my ways.

But it begs some larger questions for me about mobile learning and performance support. Can such devices be used effectively to help workers perform on the job? Is monitoring of a worker’s every action a good thing? Might it also be used for evil?

I can’t quite shake a vague unease about my device… concerns over my data floating through the ether, waiting to be hacked… visions of Big Brother watching everything I do.

I keep thinking about the Steven Spielberg movie “Minority Report,” whose vision of the near future includes the continuous monitoring of everyone via retinal scanning and optical recognition. Nobody can go anywhere without being noticed. In daily life, it’s primarily used to present each individual with personalized advertising everywhere, and we know our current technology is already well along that path! Will total monitoring of our activities by those in authority be in our future as well?

As my husband says with tongue (partially) in cheek, we might as well just implant a tracking chip in people at birth and be done with it. Or perhaps both of us have just watched one too many movie and TV shows about our coming dystopian future!

I do want to believe that technology will make our work and leisure lives better. All of us learning/performance professionals need to keep a watchful eye to make sure it doesn’t overstep its bounds.

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