Why you’ll have to pay attention to Societal Computing

In his last keynote, Steve Jobs introduced the iCloud saying that our personal devices are now subdued to the cloud, where our personal information is stored. In the case of Apple’s iCloud, our personal information (documents, photos, media, etc.) is linked exclusively to the Apps that handle them.

The device of the future isn’t the iPhone, or the iPad, anymore. It isn’t about a single website or company. It’s about a concerto of companies, services, devices, people and institutions that are integrated and connected through their single common denominator: you.

The future is made of stuff like Square, a free credit card reader that connects to any mobile device, thus enabling anyone to charge for a service or product with a credit card, anywhere.

But the problem with credit card payments is that it’s incredibly complicated and expensive for a small business to own. So Square had to go beyond the device to solve that, and created a simple pricing system and made the device free. It wasn’t actually easy, since they had to negotiate with huge financial institutions, be well funded. And they will have to grow a brand sufficiently strong for you to entrust your credit card to a street vendor holding an iPhone attached to a little device called Square.

In the process of solving the problem for the sellers, they also added the ability to send the receipt via email or sms, instead of just handing out a stupid piece of paper. Thus, Square enables you to start collecting your payment information digitally, just as it enables sellers to start using advanced business metrics.

Square will soon start selling complete POSes, I’m sure, and it’ll be the first POS to have the ability to report back to you directly, digitally.

I point out Square because it’s a beautiful example. Now imagine that everything is given the power, or even the order, to report back to you. That every time you electronically interact with a system such as a bus card, a metro pass, or when a public cctv camera spots and recognizes you, you are given a report of that event.

That is societal computing. It’s when personal computing meets social computing, everywhere. When your computing is integrated with their computing. When we all compute in concert.

Consider that if you had a digital trace of all your activity and you put it all, say, on a webpage, you’d just need to hand that out to anyone, even your grandkids, and say: here, this is pretty much what I’ve been up to.

If people are allowed to directly negotiate, share and analyze  information without actually depending on companies’ and government’s transparency, maybe transparency will become a standard. They know, why don’t you?

Many new things will come when we have our data in our hands. It’s necessary now, as we need to design better societies and economies for the future.

And there’s a big question regarding that future: where will your personal information go?

Facebook’s new Timeline is a good example of what that might look like for your “socially shareable” activities. But what about your financial transactions? What about exercise tracking? School results? Miles traveled? Your productivity? Is all that going to be locked-in on the iCloud?

Some, like myself with Manybots, have already taken on the mission to allow people to do more with their information. Apart from Manybots, you can lookup services like Singly, recently launched with US-grade firepower, Fluxstream or others.

So now, every time you hear a “beep”, or swipe a card, imagine what it’d be like if you had a trace of it: what would you measure it against? What would it say about your lifestyle? About how you’re contributing to the world?

Breathe, have fun.

by Alexandre L. Solleiro

[The images that illustrate the reflexions of this post come from Mutualism, an information aggregator for a specific server, which use captured information to create shapes from the connections and fluxes between the users and object of interests, between a public area and the particular extensions to the private areas where the users are placed in the network space.]