Knock, Knock, The Future of Work Isn't There

I've had the pleasure to be interviewed for seven books so far. You can find them here in the "print" section, Yesterday, I was interviewed again, for a new book coming out about the future of work. I thought this might be a good way to share my current thinking in 2017 and some details you may not know about my current projects!

I'm finishing up my own book which will be to publishers by summer! Enjoy a little trip down my rabbit hole.

Interview with Chris Dancy, 17/03/17 -Phoebe Moore


PM: Thank you so much for interviewing with me. First, I would be really interested to hear about the book you are writing.

CD: ‘I am you, tomorrow’ is a story, a life story, a mash up of the ‘happiness project’ combined with ‘Tidy’ by Marie Condo, a collection of stories about me, kind of wiring up and things I learned about myself and I guess, tips and tricks.

I feel very passionately right now, I believe strongly about the rise of this kind of connected consciousness that’s happening, the spirituality aspects of how machines are democratising our relationship with existence itself and how that changes human evolution. Once we lose concepts regarding time, time is really the big thing on everyone’s mind right now, whether it’s feelings of mortality or the ephemeral nature of it, I think that can be traced to people’s relationship with technology.

PM: Tell me a bit about yourself, your life, your work, your drive?

CD: The benefit of looking at this project, I look at it with more patience… I had spent so many years with computers at a myopic level, customising a tool bar, I felt in some strange way that there was a level of control I could exact over my life if I could turn my own life into an interface. What that experience was, so the interface really became anything I could touch that was digital, because interfaces are information collectors. The experience was something that I didn’t really understand because the feedback loop using certain tools because of their inherent systems of collection, forced me to lie in those systems

So, I’m not sure what came first, desire to quantify or desire to control, but since then I have done experimentation not to control but to measure, but then found that the results are the same. I end up with a more profound sense, uneasiness, in a body in a world where I don’t matter.

PM: How do you think the quantified self movement started? What was it responding to?

CD: Some of the earliest meetings that I read about before they really got moving in 2008-9, reminded me that there’s something inherently unique about Silicon Valley. I trace it back to the diversity movement of 60s and 70s. Silicon Valley was a kind of bastion of safety, first in corporate diversity and inclusion with software companies in that area. This says a lot about how people’s brains evolved. I don’t know if we would have had such a technical revolution if it wasn’t for radical need to corral people who were looking for safe places. Look at the gay movement in SF, some of my earliest peers worked for Adobe and Microsoft Word and all those great places, so with that as a stage, by the time you get to the 90s and network based computing and some of the earliest projects were very inclusive and included disparate communities within a larger community, and then that takes you to the quantified self movement. People who innately understood likeminded individuals was a route to accessing their own beliefs and desire. People at a point in their lives and careers where they conquered everything, post bubble, post exit, post inclusion, post diversity and then the talks we are still having today, some would say those problems are solved. People were and are on a technological spirit quest, for lack of anything else. I have listened to interviews with Gary (Wolf) and other folks about its nature and objective about that reality, we could say we need a God.

PM: You are called the mindful cyborg. What do you mean by this? Did you have a personal rationale for tracking your self? What was it?

CD: This term came from when I got tired of being called the ‘world’s most connected man’. Spending more time in contemplative practice is important to me and has been since 2014. That being said, everyone I encounter who has some technical leanings end up measuring something. As soon as they measure, they want to hack everything.

Hard to find words that resonate with what people relate to. All I did with the moniker with mindful cyborg is to cut to the chase, two things that people can connect with. Concepts of mindfulness, contemplation, Buddhism overused. No good word for a technology person who wants to be all of these things.

PM: What do you typically track today? Has it become ‘second nature’?

CD: In 2017, I no longer need sensors, I realise I am a sensor. So often I’ll measure something and just for shits and giggles I’ll jot down what I think it will be, how far I have got etc. and it’s weird how accurate I am at telling temperature or light variance or a range of other things. I see information everywhere, not just info but scarily accurate info. So as far as, do I still measure stuff, 10 years in, I still measure simple things: sleep, food, activity, meditation time, but there is no need to, I know these things innately. The strangest thing I have experienced is that I now know this about other people. I recently had an interview with Irish radio and I told everyone what their sleep etc. was. It became really obvious just by looking at the wear on people. I still measure a few things but I hate the concept of ‘measuring’ and I feel like I can do it innately, but I often tell people who want me to come wired up, because you wouldn’t hire someone to be a clown at a party who is dressed in business attire.

It’s become so mainstream now, my partner is 25 and he had been tracking steps and location and had never even heard the word tracking. Apple’s Health Kit has changed all that.

PM: Has anything changed in the way people work today? Why?

CD: I spent two years in population health company and I see this increasing trend not only of normalisation but the … health care providers gather data at a population level, even expect to track you, everything from the garishness of biometric screening to checking in with health coach once a week. Take the case of Humana giving out apple watches to 10000 people. It almost seems like technological fascism, I don’t understand why this is not examined at a greater/deeper level other that healthcare is needed. Convenience trumps privacy.

It’s easy for me to say that if it’s convenient they’ll just do it, HSA spend or toward deductibles. But where there is resistance to tracking, or becomes mainstream, you see automation. Some of earliest tracking were overnight trackers. Within a few years this will happen in driving and trucking and the same thing will happen in all access of work.

I have just got a Tesla, it tracks everything,  so it allows me not to pay attention! In fact, that is ultimate holy grail, we want the benefits of knowing everything without paying attention to anything, that is diametrically opposed to what we could call ‘life’. Knowing is hurting, life is not knowing and everything just ‘works’. That is literally, death: that is when there is nothing left for us to do.

PM: What is your perspective about work and labour and machines, from tracking and monitoring to automation?

CD: We need to look realistically at the role of machines in human life in 2017 and next 10 years, to answer the question about work and automation. If we were honest with ourselves, machines are teaching us to act like machines. We are not teaching machines to act human.

Our relationship with machines in the future will be on an almost a nostalgic basis, teaching people how to be people if you look at that long 50-year loop: machines teaching us to be human. What will happen is that so much of our lives will become automated, the need to feel authentic will come from some data that will be collected and mimicked and fed back to us.

If I just look 2008-17, most people I interact with have become functioning iPhones. They speak in tweets, photograph in filters, our speech has evolved to emojis. When you meet someone who veers off that path, it’s disconcerting. If I want help in a busy store I stand perfectly still and even if I’m last in line, the clerk will say can I help you? Something about humans suddenly locking up like a browser like a browser or iPhone, gets attention! Now is a good time to talk about how much can we ‘give’ machines if ultimately, they have to teach us.

PM: Has our relationship with ‘management’ and/or machines changed as a result of machines at work?

CD: I’d be out of my league to answer that question, I haven’t worked with humans where I had a manager in almost 20 years, so historically I would be taking a stab in the dark.

I do manage some biological metrics with my own team. We are all measured and that data is available to us all. If someone is not sleeping, sleep is usually what I manage, I will purposefully divert work from them, until I notice those trends are going back to normal.

If I see employees’ bedtimes are varying, I will make subtle changes in the background. I never talk to employees about this, I just change things where I can to improve the situation.

I see organisations that use the Jawbones weaponising employees’ lack of sleep and promoting them as ‘better humans’. You see it a lot in ‘dev’ culture, where people slept for two hours and are ‘jacked up’ on caffeine. I think it’s the least human thing you can do, create a brag-worthy cultures.

This kind of culture excludes people who have other responsibilities such as family or people who don’t have access to supplements or certain foods, it’s a bad spiral on all sorts of levels. You’re rewarded for being a single health nut. The message is, don’t get married, don’t know too many people, don’t participate in political discussions online. We have homogenised the entire workforce, just add Vitamin D and sell people as milk. We put pictures of missing people on milk cartons, maybe people are the milk and the cartons…

PM: Do your employees ‘opt in’ to their data being viewed?

CD: My employees are all on Texas, we function asa Delaware Inc and we run out of Tennessee, the strange things it that they all want to do it. They say, if they could be more like me their lives would be better. But learning about yourself isn’t always as great as you might think. It’s a slippery road.

We have this moniker we follow, everything has to follow: TASK which means, Trust, Aware, Safe, and Kind. We can’t talk about data, tech, or each other unless it fits into this or brings out a sense of these things in that order.

PM: What is the future of technology and work? Privacy… surveillance… ‘gig economy’…

CD: I can’t see past the gig economy unless we get into something like Jaron Lanier who wrote about ‘Who owns the future?’. I still think we are less than 20 years away from buying and selling out data from some kind of marketplace, the future of work is what you will give me and I will give you about myself. It makes me think of the Justin Timberlake movie where everyone is swapping time touch wrists to keep alive.

Work in the future, well, privacy is work. The only thing left in the future is the ability to understand and dictate your information, that will be done for you. The concept of an app where Uber drivers make a selection not only based on ‘where’ I was, but also ‘how’ I was, so a driver in the opposite space. So, if I’m in a bad mood, someone will treat me differently.

This is all relating to intimate data exchange. I saw this early on with Uber. They were testing the Spotify integration at some point. The driver would then automatically play what they were playing on Spotify. I asked an Uber driver about that experience and they told me, ‘it’s interesting to hear everyone’s music. What I miss, though, is knowing more about that person’. So, the human desire to know interesting details, not in a dark way, just connect/sharing what we jam to in that passive API way, that’s what will be integrated.

Everything is customised now. There is a McDonalds app you can use to can call ahead to get a Big Mac and they won’t charge you or make it until you’re a certain distance away. But will they stop adding mayo if you haven’t walked enough?

Health convenience related are going to get staggering.

Our ability to ‘opt out’? Well, it will seem ‘odd to opt out’. I don’t think there are any digital Amish yet. But those people who say, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m not partaking’, I know people who are purposefully living a 1998 lifestyle, because they have enough money.

It costs a lot not to have internet access. I wonder whether in the future whether people will be able to afford not living with the internet. So, if a phone was only a phone, without wifi connected, you would be on the streets within a week.

Disconnected people will live amongst us in the future. But we now do everything without technology. The most garishly rich in the 1970s had farms and horses. You had estates and everything is done by hand, tailor to maid.

There was a guy in 2013 who lived without internet for a year. He said it took so long to find a pizza, without connectivity and only phone calls on your phone, you would probably be on the street within a couple of weeks.

Not being connected will constitute a new disability.

PM: What are the risks of machines and monitoring and work and what should be done to mitigate them?

CD: Nothing we can really do now, that horse has left the building. To mitigate, we need a complete overhaul of how we code and implement technology. I said in my TED Talk that we stop solveing our human problems with technology, and start solving our technology problems with our humanity. Our humanity comes from a sense of perspective and a sense of awe. I think if we could create technology or code implement in a way that had a sense of awe and perspective but as we leave the world of screen time and we wear the technology and live inside the technology, we will be faced with the problem of our technological journey, so what life can be after the interface, wanting to become an interface, at this point in our generation, it’s anti-choice, as an interface there’s no choice. It’s ‘just in time’ but there’s no choice. If I ask Alexa to play music she’ll only play Amazon prime. If I ask her to play Madonna she will only play Madonna I have listened to or is in my own folders.