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Sociometers Give Insight into the Importance of Face to Face Interactions – Meaningful Use?

Posted May 13 2009 10:47pm

Sociometers, a new term for me, but somewhat addresses one of my concerns that I speak about on the blog.  Behavior logging, does this fall into meaningful use?   As I have mentioned before there are insurers who are trying to use devices to report our state of being, blood pressure, etc. in real time to parties who are contracted to do this ( outside of the patient/MD relationship), in order to allow employers to have a cheaper group insurance image rate.  The study mentioned here is not related in that aspect, but brings up a good point on how our legal statutes are lagging way behind in this area. 

The article says we also need to begin discussing how some technologies will be used – meaningful use?  If presented with an option to use such a product that will either make a service available or affordable, what choice does one really have?  I like the information coming from this study as it says something I have talked about for a long time, folks getting stuck in “text box” relationships without the sound of a human voice or visuals. 

Also ironic, it takes a device to tell us that face to face interactions are important, like maybe we have not been able to figure that out, but this is the world we live in today and we need studies to tell us we are ok(grin).  Technology tends to drag us away from face to face and normal communications, and body language and other forms of communication get buried.  Obviously for the study, everyone was in agreement as the rules were laid out and it was strictly for the purpose of the study, but imagine having to wear such a device in order to maintain your job or your health insurance.  These little goodies come with alerts too that might drive you a bit crazy.  As you can see the study was conducted from MIT.  The moral here is don’t put all your friends in Facebook (grin). 

It does make one wonder a bit when you see companies like Allstate that have an online test for you to take to verify your fitness to drive where the rules and laws need to be.  Will the grocery store be next in having a test to see if I am fit enough to shop for my own groceries?   So when it comes to healthcare, yes who and what devices are needed and who should be the coordinator, patients and doctors should be in control, otherwise if we don’t participate soon, the technology working in the background gets implemented perhaps in some strange and intrusive fashion through other entities (and this is not illegal yet as we have not admitted it exists) and later we all ask “how did that happen” when in fact it was progressing in the background all the time and we just did not take the time to admit to or recognize it’s existence. 

When this occurs, the reactive stance takes over instead of being pro-active and that’s what gets us in trouble.  Ignorance is no longer bliss.   BD

Office workers who make time to chat face to face with colleagues may be far more productive than those who rely on e-mail, the phone, or Facebook, suggests a study carried out by researchers at MIT and New York University.

The researchers outfitted workers in a Rhode Island call center with a wearable sensor pack that records details of social interactions. They discovered that those employees who had in-person conversations with coworkers throughout the day also tended to be more productive

While the promise of ­reality mining is great, the idea of collecting so much personal information naturally raises many questions about privacy, Pentland admits.

He says it's crucial that behavior-logging technology not be forced on anyone. But legal statutes are lagging behind our data collection abilities, he says, which makes it all the more important to begin discussing how the technology will be used.

Pentland's study used a sociometer, a device about the size of a deck of cards, which participants wear around their necks as they would an identification badge. Each sociometer contains an accelerometer to measure their movement; a microphone that picks up their speech characteristics, such as intonation and cadence; a Bluetooth radio to detect other people wearing sociometers nearby; and an infrared sensor that can detect face-to-face interactions. Worn all day, the sociometers log workers' activity and conversations.

"The underlying theme here is that humans are social beings," says Pentland, who will present details of the work at the Where 2.0 conference in San Jose, CA, next week. "Technology pushes us toward the abstract, and away from richer face-to-face communication." Without direct communication, he says, many physical signals, such as body language and facial expression, are lost.

Technology Review: Wearable Sensors Watch Workers

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