Data Disparity and Control.

I have always been a slow adopter when it comes to technology. The iPhone 6s remains the only device I bought at its launch and that was solely because my 4s decided to finally start its death spiral. Mostly, it comes down to cost, but there is another factor.

Technology is largely fractured. Every device, every app, every piece works independently. Most do not share with others, especially across platforms, and many make that control a priority. It can be maddening when trying to complete the simplest of tasks.

For example, last year, I finished an ebook and set about publishing it. I ultimately used a third party to distribute it, yielding control for a simplified process. Why? I did not want to create multiple accounts and versions just to get it out on the market. I wanted a unified solution. It was unnecessary complexity.

Recently, I acquired a FitBit, the ability on challenges with friends on the platform a primary reason. I also wanted better transparency into my daily activities. Quickly, I was struck by how constrained their platform is, all for the sake of selling more devices (at least that is how it appears). All the data is largely locked into their ecosystem. Ultimately, I set aside the device, fatigued by needing one more app.

This is not a problem limited to their platform though. As much as cross platform functionality is touted, it remains a narrow, largely one-way street. Mountains of data are collected, yet remain largely proprietarily locked into their respective systems. New ideas and companies don’t focus on fixing this either, but rather attempt to offer one more solution that moves the data to their platform.

The solution is not to just open the gates and let it devolve into a free-for-all. While I am for data transparency, I do think companies have the right to be protective of data they collect. A balance exists, and it is not easy to parse where to place the fulcrum. I am for connectivity and the ability to share across platforms. Whether hardware or software, this is where the focus should be.

Want to make a fitness tracking device with an app? Offer it free for those using your devices, but include a paid version for those wanting to share data. Want to provide ebooks on your service? Offer a way to easily import and export the book to a variety of formats.

The problem relies somewhat on the notion of control. Netflix series are not available elsewhere because they want the subscribers and all the data attached to them. It is a monetary choice. Sports are the most obvious offender here, with the ability to watch sporting events across platforms severely limited. Simply put, no good reason exists for preventing wide distribution of past sporting events.

Where do we go from here then? Do we accept our fates, sticking to the proprietary systems of our choosing? Users are not that empowered, given that someone is usually more than willing to accept the terms others refuse. Harm, in the way of inconvenience, happens to the user and not the service. Netflix does not suffer if I refuse to subscribe, but I might, given my social network. Increasingly, our choices isolate us, prioritizing acceptance for the sake of inclusion.

And there is the key to the puzzle. The desire of inclusion, of belonging. Every device, every app, every choice we make regarding technology is increasingly transparent. We are seen in public with our devices and we connect with others on a variety of apps. Whether intended or not, it impacts our impressions of others.

The affect is muted as technology slowly reaches a saturation point. In a sea of smartphones, its impact lessens. The use of mobile devices for payment and transit is still highly visible. Locally, I can practically see the exasperated signs from those using the mobile app for transit fares as they wait for those using cash to pay. The gap is visible in these moments, with clear delineation between the two groups still present.

It is important to remember that all of this is still a game of the have and have-nots. Comfort with that parity makes it easier to readily accept the terms needed to be included. It also allows for continued fracturing of the market, as the need to equalize the field is negligible. The social impact of technology cannot be ignored, but one must remember it is still just one piece of a larger puzzle.

That puzzle, while still incomplete, relies on broader, more inclusive, pieces. It also requires a slower adoption, taking the time to weigh our choices and their consequences. A more unified solution that empowers the consumer relies on looking beyond one platform and yielding control. And that, possibly final, piece remains the most elusive.

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