For the first of a series of interviews, I have the pleasure of bringing you a talk with Shel Israel, co-author (along with Robert Scoble) of “Age of Context“. Shel is an author and speaker, and we talked about some issues related to contextual technologies, privacy, Mars, and what the future holds.
Is the future so bright, I gotta wear (Google) shades?
The future is always filled with surprises and new technologies. I won’t advise anyone which device they should use–but to keep an open mind. What is freaky today, becomes normal or obvious tomorrow. As for Google Glass–I speak for myself and not for Robert. By the time I can afford the device, it will probably be part of the glasses and shades I wear now.
Recently there was a report of a woman being attacked for wearing Google Glass in a San Francisco restaurant. Do you think we’ll see more of this before people get used to it?
Yes, that was Sarah Slocum, a tech journalist–and a talented one. I think “assaulted” is a bit strong, but some drunk in a bar ripped the device off her face and flipped her off. People do get freaked out now and then, when they see something different, something they may not understand. It’s been going on through history. In my life, men have been beaten and given haircuts because other didn’t like the length of their hair. Some guy lost a piece of his nose, because someone didn’t like him wearing a piece of body-piercing art.
There is a segment of our population, that is angered by people and things that are different. Perhaps in the United States we have become more civil. We haven’t burned any witches in years.
Yes. there will be more incidents–perhaps some of them more serious than the Slocum incident. Some people are just ugly and provincial. But they never seem to block progress overall.
Of all the examples of contextual technology you highlighted in “Age of Context”, what are the two that most impressed you?
That is very, very hard to say, and there have been technologies that have come out in the six months since we completed the book. I was very much impressed with SRI’s ability to detect and kill a single cancer cell and thus stop this awful disease before a tumor actually grows. I’m impressed with all the ways sensors are being used in disease prevention and health monitoring. I believe GeoFencing is very significant to physical marketplaces. The internet has been sucking customers out of stores for 20 years, and now mobile, sensors, location technologies, and data are starting to greatly enhance experiences in stores, stadiums, cities and more. I am overwhelmed at the impact of technology coming to people rather than people being tethered to desks for connection.
What is the one that most freaked you out?
NSA surveillance. As consumers, we can do something about companies that try to abuse our privacy. I don’t know what we, the people of the world, can do about government incursions on our privacy. This makes me shudder and think about the world as George Orwell painted it.
What advice would you give to marketers, so they can keep up with all that’s changing?
Marketing, communications and advertising are the last three bastions of the old ways in the modern enterprise. While all other departments now use social media, mobile and data in ways that improve customer experiences, too many marketing and communications people still see their jobs as intruding on people when they don’t want to be bothered. They use data in inefficient manners, and think location technologies are good because they can push out messages to whatever people are nearby.
The result is often that less people are going to be nearby in the Age of Context.
Today, direct marketers are extremely happy when they get a two percent response to a marketing offer sent out by the Internet. Many, many companies consider those two percent just wonderful. This explains why about 98 percent of the messages you and I see are annoyingly irrelevant to us.
One of the miracles of contextual technology is what we called Pinpoint Marketing in the book. Pinpoint marketing allows marketers and communicators to send out messages only to people likely to be interested in the offers and leave the rest of us alone. It will allow them to know when you have selected a vacation destination so that they can stop wasting your time and theirs with unwanted messages after you found what you want.
Contextual marketers can start getting responses of 75-80% because the new messages are relevant. Some smart marketers have begun to do this already. Others never will. I would predict those who are set in their old ways will follow the ancient village blacksmith into obscurity as contextual marketers start realizing their business is to build relationships rather than interrupting people whenever they can.
Is loss of privacy a price worth paying for, to benefit in the age of context?
I don’t think it’s such a simple transaction. We give up little strings of our personal data all the time. We let Google know enough about us so that when we enter “park,” it knows whether you want a place to put your car or a place for your kids to play.
We want retailers to know our tastes, our preferred colors. Mobile apps that can remind us when we are running late or that traffic is heavy are very useful. We need to do a few things that we cannot do today:
1. We should have the right to know. Right now, Google has a site [google.com/policies/privacy]. You should go there and see the amazing amount of stuff they have on you. Google is the only company being that transparent today. We think every company should disclose what data they have on you.
2. We should have the right to correct data when it is wrong. After writing “Naked Conversations” with Scoble, I started getting all sorts of ads for Victoria’s Secrets. I got invited to a “gentleman’s fashion show” to see the new designs. This was funny at first, but I am a grandparent and it may not be so funny if my data profile says I have an unusual interest in women’s undergarments.
3. We should be able to turn the damned things off. Many people have wearable devices that monitor for health and fitness, such as Fuel band or Fitbit. You are supposed to wear them to bed so the device can record how well you are sleeping. But, if you think about it, such device will also know when you are making love. Your smartphone will be nearby as will be your partners. So there will be data to record with whom you are making love. We should be able to command any device or mobile app to go to sleep on our commands, and currently we cannot.
Is traveling to Mars really one of your life goals?
Not a goal, but a fantasy. I am hopelessly curious as to what lies beyond–in every possible direction. I am fascinated by the mixture of promise and danger that I see everywhere. I would love to travel to every country on Earth. I would like to travel to at least one other astral body. I would like to explore the floor of the ocean.
Shel Israel writes and speaks about technology, business and life. He focuses on contextual technologies such as mobile, wearables, sensors and data as well as how these forces are reshaping global economics. He has been a keynote speaker many times all over the world, and writes a column at Forbes Magazine.