Geoffrey Wells Letter #13:

On Friday, the world’s largest company, Apple, released its new product–a watch. And well, it’s not only a watch. It’s well-connected, although the analog watch still has one advantage; it works without an iPhone. Samsung also released its new watch. No one is sure that these devices are going to take hold with the masses, but no one doubts that, increasingly, devices will be worn, not carried–at some point they will be called clothes, not devices. It’s like calling your phone a digital phone. I worked with a photographer years ago; he would say, “Call him on the electric telephone.” Yeah.  These watches are not only about convenience, what’s driving this trend is the biometric information that is integrated through Big Data analytics into our personal and other data. From my point of view, it’s all good, provided it is thoughtfully executed. It must not be like fracking: good idea, terrible execution.

Notwithstanding our concerns about privacy and security, I wonder about the self-centric nature of this trend. Is it really all about me? My health, my data, my friends, my likes? Me watching me? No.

Because the other side of the watch paradigm is about people watching out for each other. For the crowd. They don’t care whether they hold the mobile device or wear it, they care how they share it. (If you’ll excuse the rhyme, I’ll leave it there.)

As Apple makes around $8.3 million dollars per hour in profit (averaged over a day), companies like Spacial Collective in Nairobi, Kenya, are helping people watch out for each other. I’d be surprised if they make one cent an hour.  As they state on their website, “Since power is a relation among people, Spatial Collective aims to understand these connections and with it power relations at all levels, ranging from citizens, to local service providers, private companies, local government, and state and non-state actors.” This is not a new concept; I wrote about this in Letter #6, where the city of Philadelphia is moving community-based services to the cloud, and in Letter #9, about Apple’s Research Kit. The value that data visualization and mapping brings to the everyday lives of their owners, and more importantly, to the needs of the communities in which they live, is remarkable.

BBC’s Click reported that mapping and app technology is allowing residents living in Nairobi’s Mathare slum to report land disputes and waste management and infrastructure problems. The app allows users to rate the urgency of problems and the appropriate action to be taken. It is hoped in the future that drones will be able to map the slum fully. This would enable residents to obtain full title deeds, gain access to bank credit and put up permanent buildings.

(click on photo to play)


At the SEGA School in Morogoro, Tanzania, each eleventh-grade graduate receives a mobile phone, thanks to Kidogo Kidogo, an organization that sells iPhone cases. Kidogo Kidogo is Swahili for “little by little.” When they sell two phone cases, Kidogo Kidogo donates a mobile phone, a phone number and 5,000 Tanzanian schillings of mobile credits to a woman in Tanzania. Read more here:

Which brings me to Laurie Anderson, whose Big Science sounds uncannily like Big Data and who was wearing her instruments long before the Apple Watch. Maybe we weren’t watching her close enough. Er, excuse me, I have to go–my elbow is buzzing.


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