Column: Roger's Soapbox

The Price of Man’s Soul

By: | October 1, 2015

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Employees of Amazon, we are told, must wear electronic gadgetry that measures their work effort. If the devices record sub-standard performance, a firing may follow. Modern customers demand delivery within the hour, and if Amazon workers fail to play the part of cogs in a giant machine, it’s the scrap heap for them.

Socially aware types are appalled at this development. Criminals forced to stay home must wear ankle bracelets? Sure. They’re bad guys. But employees being forced to march to the beat of an electronic drummer without conscience? Outrageous.

Here’s further bad news for the socially aware from the not-so-dim horizons of the future. Once the Internet of Things has enabled your refrigerator to talk to your sock drawer, the next great leap forward will be “people analytics.”

Wearable technology — sounds innocent and cozy, doesn’t it? Wrong. We’re not talking Google Glass here, or an Apple Watch that enables you to tell the time in Indonesia.

Wearable technology — sounds innocent and cozy, doesn’t it? Wrong.

Oh, did I say the future? I meant last week. A company called Humanyze (and wouldn’t it just be called that?) has issued more than 10,000 ID badges to various companies. The badges contain microphones and accelerometers to measure, among other things, speaking tone and volume, and to send management the details of all conversations.

It’s a cliché, but I must say it: We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.

Another company, VoloMetrix, scans calendars and emails from employees’ computers and assesses the effects of their behavior on profits. One pointless meeting too many, and you’re unemployed. VoloMetrix can measure how many emails are sent during a particular meeting, and therefore how worthwhile the meeting was.

It gets worse. Chairs that measure heart rate and posture and report back to management. Slump in your seat and you’ll be shown the (electronic) door. Tech-embedded waistbands! You’ll think you’re Batman, but soon you’ll be looking for work when your belt rats you out.

Insurance companies are, of course, among the most up-to-date employers. OK, a handful still run Windows 3.1, hoping to squeeze a few more miles out of their IT costs. But the majority keep up with employment trends and legislation.

Before too long, your shoes will measure how far you walk and your desk will report your interactions to the boss. Microphones will record your every word, and cameras will view your activities from every angle.

What you think may remain your own for a few years, but there’s good news here, too. After a few years of wearing electronics, you won’t be doing any thinking; it just won’t be cost efficient.

There will be no defense against the mechanical Judas you will carry around with you. If the machine says you took too long for your coffee break, and during the break criticized the bonus plan, you’ll have to see human resources, most of whom will resemble Robocops. Of course, they already do.

Among the prices paid for the wonders of the Internet was the loss of personal privacy. Google knows exactly where you’ve surfed. Need I say more? Not for nothing do savvy employees cover the cameras in their laptops; people have been filmed through their cameras and had their activities posted on the web. (Scary, ain’t it?)

In due course, I suppose, all good citizens will become unarmed Robocops in the name of efficiency and so forth. Is a man’s soul worth so little that we cast it aside in the name of expense management?

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