By Neno Duplan
Big data has become a major buzzword in tech these days; the ability to gather, store and aggregate information about individuals has exploded in the last few years. Businesses are harnessing that data to understand consumer behavior at unprecedented levels. Meanwhile, consumer advocates worry about big data’s power to aggregate our information, and that the access to our information, movements, purchases, availability, even your Wednesday-night route home from work, can be tracked, stored very cheaply and sold to other companies. Yet with all of this tracking and gathering of data about our activities, and the subsequent concerns over privacy, most of us do little to resist the tide of monitoring.
Modern humans have become major data junkies. We are complicit in this cycle with our online activity and mobile use and have been for years. We create meticulously cultivated personal radio stations in music apps; we enter our food intake and exercise in weight-loss apps; and we record late-night feedings of infants in breastfeeding apps. We wear monitoring devices — voluntarily — to gather data about ourselves even when we sleep. We even have them for our dogs!
These activity trackers or digital monitors typically combine a wearable device with a website or smartphone app to view data collected about your movements and habits. The goal is to measure not only your steps from the parking lot to your desk, but also your sedentary downtime at work or in front of a television, bursts of intense exercise and even your sleep habits — all to create a complete picture of your most and least healthful behaviors. Some models also offer tips and set goals based on your data. The devices send all the data about your movements back to a Web-based tracking program, which displays your every move and calories burned on the sort of precise charts and graphs that economists use to monitor recessions. The idea behind having this complete picture of your activity is to spur you into action to change unhealthy habits and make better choices for your body.
How fit is the planet?
There is an opportunity for us to use this same insatiable desire to collect data for another good: environmental monitoring. Similar devices, equipped with environmental monitoring sensors such as temperature, carbon, or chemicals in the air or water can give us unprecedented information about a location’s, region’s or the planet’s overall health. In the event of an environmental disaster like a major spill, nuclear accident or volcanic eruption, we could have an instant characterization of short- and long-term impacts of that disaster on its surroundings.Click to continue reading »