The Quantified Man: How an Obsolete Tech Guy Rebuilt Himself for the Future

Chris Dancy

I wrote about the extreme quantification of work for Wired:

Tesco — the company that runs a chain of grocery stores across Great Britain — uses digital armbands to track the performance of its warehouse staff.

A former Tesco employee told The Independent newspaper that the armbands provide a score of 100 if a task is completed within a given time frame, but a score of 200 if it’s completed twice that fast. “The guys who made the scores were sweating buckets and throwing stuff around the place,” he told the paper.

Tesco representatives said the devices allow users to switch into a “break mode” for up to 25 minutes a day. But that anonymous employee claimed that using the toilet without logging the trip as a break would result in a surprisingly low score, even if the task was finished within the allotted time.

That’s just one of the many ways that employers are using technology to track employee productivity. Call centers have long used metrics such as call time to rank employees, and gamification software may take it to new levels. Darpa wants to track soldiers’ health. Apparently, IBM has a tool for detecting disgruntled employees. And Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff has boasted of a “Chatterlytics” system for ranking employees on their use of the company’s internal social network.

Our work is being re-quantified — in a big way — and Chris Dancy, a director in the office of the chief technology officer at BMC Software, thinks it’s time for employees to take these metrics into their own hands. “If you can measure it, someone will,” he says, “and that somebody should be you.”

Dancy is connected to at least three sensors all day, every day. Sometimes, it’s as much as five. They measure his pulse, his REM sleep, his skin temperature, and more. He also has sensors all over his house. There’s even one on his toilet so he can look for correlations between his bathroom habits and his sleep patterns.

He’s on the cutting edge of the “quantified self” movement kickstarted by Wired’s Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly. But it’s not just his body and environment that Dancy tracks. He constantly takes screenshots of his work, and everything he does — every meeting, every document he creates, every Tweet he sends, every file he shares, every screenshot he takes — is logged in Google Calendar, providing him with a timeline and his entire work life. If you ask him what he did on a particular day, he can tell you with great precision.

And he thinks every white collar worker will need to adopt a similar regimen soon.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: The Quantified Man: How an Obsolete Tech Guy Rebuilt Himself for the Future

See Also:

The first half or so of Marshall Brain’s design fiction novella Manna

The Rise Of Workplace Surveillance

1 Comment

  1. Dancy might be better off spending his time looking outward for information to improve himself than obsessively looking inward for data points about himself. This is an individualized form of the “Big Data” problem for enterprises. What data is one collecting and why? How much time does one spend collecting and analyzing the data? Is doing this the most profitable use of one’s time? What are the key metrics that need watching, and if one tries to watch everything, what’s going to get lost in the self-created noise?

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