Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Can wearable technology boost productivity?

By Dr Chris Brauer, Special to CNN
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
  • Human Cloud research project explores socio-economic impact of wearable tech
  • A recent study shows devices can boost productivity and happiness
  • Analysts predict this market will grow from $1.4bn in annual sales this year to $50bn by 2018
  • Wearable technologies are in the midst of this blending into everyday lives

Editor's note: Dr Chris Brauer is a senior lecturer in the Institute of Management Studies and Founder of the Centre for Creative & Social Technologies(CAST) at Goldsmiths, University of London. Follow him on Twitter. "Thinking Business" focuses on the psychology of getting ahead in the workplace by exploring techniques to boost employee performance, increase creativity and productivity.

(CNN) -- With great power comes great responsibility. There is some confusion over whether this quote should be attributed to Voltaire or Spiderman.

Either way, the message is the same and one that should be resonating with the inventors, companies, brands, media, policy makers and industries hitching a ride on the innovation bullet train of wearable technologies.

What is cloud computing?
Wearable tech
Did Apple's CEO dis Google Glass?
Wearable tech tracks your life

Our original Human Cloud research project at Goldsmiths, University of London in partnership with cloud computing provider Rackspace focused on the socio-economic impact of wearable technology moving from novelty and entertainment to health and lifestyle.

We conducted a survey of 4,000 adults in the UK and US and spent six weeks with 26 participants experimenting with these new technologies, from fitness bands like the Fitbit, Jawbone Up and Nike Fuelband, to sensor-based wearable cameras like the Autographer.

Read: The science behind positive thought

With echoes of Stephen Hawking's voice on Radiohead's "OK Computer" album, participants experimenting with wearable technologies felt fitter (68%), happier (75%), and more productive (84%).

The nuances of the human experience was reflected in the six archetypes of wearable technology users we identified from deep qualitative research from the curious, controllers, and quantified selfers to the self-medics, finish line fanatics, and ubiquitors.

"As you can see, today has not gone well so far," says one self-medic participant mournfully, looking at two graphs: one shows he only took 394 steps that day, the other that he only got five hours 28 minutes sleep. When asked why he wears technology, his answer is to "prevent delusion" and so that function is at least achieved.

Privacy remains a key issue, but it is a multifaceted and complex discussion.

Twenty percent of survey respondents wanted to see Google Glass banned entirely from public spaces, but the same percentage were willing to share the data from wearable devices with government to improve services.

Read: Why success can hinder innovation

The argument from our 'controller' archetype is that their data is already valuable, the question is who is benefiting and exploiting this value.

Dr Chris Brauer
Dr Chris Brauer

Fernando Pessoa wrote that it is the fate of everyone in this life to be exploited so is it worse to be exploited by Senhor Vasques [his employer] and his textile company than by vanity, glory, resentment, envy, or the impossible?

This is a question all of us must answer, particularly as the fine line between the possible and the seemingly impossible is breached nearly every day by one form of emerging technology or another fueled by the exponential growth of computing power, storage, bandwidth, nanotechnology, and big data.

One of the most intriguing findings of the initial phase of the research was the way early adopter companies were starting to explore the power of wearable tech in the workplace.

Several companies reported issuing laptops, mobile phones, and fitness bands to all employees as part of standard corporate kit. This stimulated our imagination and led to the next phase of our research now underway with Rackspace.

Read: Why doodling may boost concentration at work

We are looking at a big data mash-up where the wearable tech human cloud meets the productivity and performance corporate cloud to amplify the role of the human cloud at work.

Wearable tech data from employees and customers are an inevitable key ingredient in the recipes for making sense of big data.
Dr Chris Brauer

For businesses experimenting with these technologies there are implications for occupational psychology, systems development, insight and analytics, leadership, competitive advantage, environmental analysis and workplace design.

Three billion gigabytes of big data are generated every day, but only one-half of one percent of this data gets analyzed and put to work.

Wearable tech data from employees and customers are an inevitable key ingredient in the recipes for making sense of big data and the role of emerging technologies in shaping our cities, societies, markets and economies.

This big data stew can be augmented with cognitive and decision-support systems like IBM Watson, the computing service that famously triumphed on Jeopardy in 2011, now deployed in the cloud diagnosing and helping treat cancer patients.

With real-time access to human data in the workplace systems like Watson can potentially support specific decisions and scenarios in relation to your personal Human Cloud. We recognize it is not all about opportunities.

Read: Training the brain to stress less

There are obvious surveillance implications and risks inherent in these kinds of dynamic data driven integrations of networks of people and systems.

Analysts at Credit Suisse suggest the wearable tech market will grow from $1.4bn (£878m) in annual sales this year to $50bn (£31.3bn) by 2018.

Your friendly neighborhood Spiderman also said some spiders change colors to blend into their environment. It's a defense mechanism.

Wearable technologies are in the midst of this blending and soon will diffuse subtly but powerfully into the fabric of everyday lives so as to be unrecognizable as a distinct innovation domain.

At this stage it is the great responsibility of every one of us to consider those implications.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dr Chris Brauer.

Part of complete coverage on
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1549 GMT (2349 HKT)
man standing on mountain looking at the view
Leadership expert Keith Yamashita explains how you can find what's meaningful to you and apply it to your life and career.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1551 GMT (2351 HKT)
Do you know when to stop? Writer and TED talker Pico Iyer on how sometimes doing nothing can make you more productive.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
Want to launch a social enterprise or learn to 3D print? Schools that can teach you that, and everything in between, are opening worldwide.
November 7, 2014 -- Updated 1032 GMT (1832 HKT)
Many successful millionaires are introverts. In fact, alone time and quiet reflection can translate into big bucks further down the road.
November 11, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
Great leadership isn't just about what you are doing right, it's about what you aren't doing wrong.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
A growing body of research suggests that work spaces more connected with nature are relaxing and can help you come up with better ideas.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
Car crashes, psycho bosses and the 2008 financial meltdown. You might be surprised to see what they all have in common.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
It sounds unbelievable: Strap on a headset and send targeted electrical currents into your brain to get more energy, improve your focus or calm down.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Even if it feels phony at first, studies show that standing in certain positions changes the chemical balance in your brain, making you feel more powerful.
October 7, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Mapping your goals is the most powerful way of planning for success. But don't write them, draw them and your subconscious will take over.
October 31, 2013 -- Updated 1909 GMT (0309 HKT)
memory, brain, illustration, malleability
Sometimes, the first step toward a great answer is to reframe the question.
October 31, 2013 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
Research shows socially-motivated employees create happier and more productive work environments. So why aren't more businesses stepping up?
October 30, 2013 -- Updated 1541 GMT (2341 HKT)
It's a familiar scenario. You're in a meeting and realize you haven't heard a word of what your boss is saying because you were thinking about the dry cleaning.
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Meryl Streep playing Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada.
We all know the story. Someone gets promoted at work and suddenly they change -- they start forgetting their peers or turn into bullies.
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 1556 GMT (2356 HKT)
Whether it's infuriating colleagues, inept management or a lack of appreciation, the modern day workplace can be a positivity free zone.
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 1557 GMT (2357 HKT)
When making a big decision, how aware are you of the underlying brain processes informing your choices?
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 1559 GMT (2359 HKT)
The common doodle has long been condemned as the offspring of the slovenly and the cynical...Until now.
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
With great power comes great responsibility. There is some confusion over whether this quote should be attributed to Voltaire or Spiderman.
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
A real human brain being displayed as part of new exhibition at the @Bristol attraction is seen on March 8, 2011 in Bristol, England. The Real Brain exhibit - which comes with full consent from a anonymous donor and needed full consent from the Human Tissue Authority - is suspended in large tank engraved with a full scale skeleton on one side and a diagram of the central nervous system on the other and is a key feature of the All About Us exhibition opening this week.
Getting stuck in your own success can be the death knell for innovation, says author Noreena Hertz.