Imagine a world where everything you do is being rated on a scale from one to five. Everyone can judge your actions based on their interactions with you, from the stranger you met on the street, the barista from the local coffee shop, to the co-workers you greet during elevator talk. Each rating affects a person’s social status. This Black Mirror’s episode “Nosedive” is created as an uncanny thermometer to measure how absurd a society controlled by social platforms could be.
Directed by Joe Wright, “Nosedive,” shown on Netflix, portrays the possibility on how our obsessions towards tech and social media culture today might build up into horrors in the future. People are judged solely by their ratings. The main character Lacie Pound, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, is trying to please everyone to gain acceptance. She believes that her value is equivalent to her app rating.
Her aim is to manage the coveted rating of 4.5. This involves practicing smiles in the mirror, brandishing goodwill to everyone, posting fashionable photos for her timeline, brown nosing “prime influencers,” while rating others five stars with the hope that they rate her favorably back. This show disturbingly shines an uncomfortable spotlight on the ways we live now.
Let's be honest – we are already more than halfway there. We have like and dislike buttons, follow and unfollow, match and unmatch. Many are obsessed altering their lives to build online personas to seek validation from others' likes and comments. We create the image of ourselves we like to portray and project to others, one post at a time – whether it's through people snapchatting pictures of their food or pining hope for another 50 followers on Instagram.
We already can rate movies, hotels, apps, doctors, government agencies, and college professors online. Yelp’s reviews determine the success of one’s business. Airbnb guests can submit star ratings and written reviews. Not just the driver, but we as passengers also are being rated each time we take Lyft or Uber.
The problem with the rating system is evident. Leaving an unbiased and honest review is hard. Check Amazon.com for example. Most sellers are giving out their product for free in exchange for positive "fake reviews." Putting subjectivity aside, most people who leave reviews either really love or hate the subject.
“Rating systems have turned customers into unwitting and sometimes unwittingly ruthless middle managers,” wrote Josh Dzieza for The Verge. “Customers expect Ritz Carlton service at McDonald's prices.”
Today, customers are also being reviewed, which means sooner or later the rating system is going to apply to everyone.
Peeple, known as the “Yelp for humans,” caused Internet backlash in 2015. It is a rating platform that would let anyone post public reviews of their acquaintances, from exes to bosses. Users can be rated based on three categories: personal, professional, and romantic. Peeple wants “character to be a new form of currency.” Ironically, the application only received one star in its App Store’s reviews. It ended up raising fears in public shaming and harassment.
As a part of Black Mirror's marketing, Netflix launched RateMe.Social, where you can check your social media rating or rate others. I received a 3.8, which in the world of the show is frowned upon.
People are afraid of being marked down. I once got a bad Yelp review, and I was devastated all day. Now I admit that I force myself to smile in front of customers to avoid another one star.
If we don’t like something about someone, have we forgotten that we can just tell him or her nicely in person? Instead of fake smiling and leaving bad reviews online, just be lovingly honest. Also keep in mind that if we are receiving feedback, we should always be open to constructive criticism.
Perhaps ratings could be the dystopian way to control the world. But the real question is, can we still behave even if no one would rate us down? Perhaps we need to question what the right amount of rating others is.
When we have to ask Google to answer that question, then perhaps the answer is yes; we are getting dumber. The 21st century is the Information Age, when technological development has changed the way we work, learn, play, and interact. But frankly, as our machines have progressed, we have suffered from computer dependency. More information available online does not necessarily equate a knowledge-based society. Technology is taking over, causing things infinitely easier to achieved – is this necessarily a good thing?
“We are a gadget-happy nation, but the gadgets make us dumber, not smarter," wrote Sydney Justin Harris, an American journalist, in 1977 for the Lakeland Ledger. Imagine what Harris (1917-1986) would think of human's intelligence today, and of the technology progress and changes we have experienced over the last decade.
Remember when we were able to memorize phone numbers? When we use to write letters with hands? When technology means typewriters, home telephones, cassettes, and pocket calculators? Have we forgotten how to use our brains without the help of computers?
Today you buy a smartphone (notice the word "smart"), and then stare at it for eight hours. The next thing you know you are sleeping with your phone in hand. And soon you discover there is an app for everything – shopping, cooking, sleeping, and even peeing (see Run and Pee). App Store now hosts two million applications worldwide. Sensor Tower predicts that the number will grow to reach 5.06 million active apps by the end of 2020.
One of the top five most used apps in 2016 is Google Maps. People rely on the app more than their spatial navigation memory. Many scientists including McGill University researchers suggest that with increased dependence on GPS, hippocampus (the front part of the brain that controls memory) is progressively getting smaller.
"Far from making us stupid, new media technologies are the only things that will keep us smart,” cognitive scientist Steven Pinker wrote a counter-argument in his Op-Ed for the New York Times. “Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and waking hours are not. Fortunately, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales, from Twitter and previews to e-books and online encyclopedias."
Ok Pinker, let’s talk about the Internet. Twenty-six years after the introduction of the World Wide Web, the availability of all information in the world at our fingertips has made us dimmer. Again, we become less dependent on our memories for data storage and retrieval, and this caused “digital amnesia.” Google might provide the best external memory bank, but people got to have knowledge stored in their head, not just in their computers.
“When people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it,” wrote psychologist Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University, quoted recently from TIME. “It’s good to know where to find the information you need—but decades of cognitive science research shows that skills like critical thinking and problem-solving can be developed only in the context of factual knowledge.“
Students do their research online, and technologies are the number one resource for education. Everyone has easy access to a lot of examples, and it's easier to copy work from other sources. We don’t have to work hard on experiment or experience things in first hand to get the information needed. We become mindless consumers of data; this is when we lose our originality, creativity, narrowing our thinking to programmable computers. “The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers,” another quote by Mr. Harris says it all.
Of course, more information means more options, and highly advantageous technology truly makes life a lot easier. But how we choose to use technologies impacts our analytical, spatial, and cultural intelligence. First, choose carefully things that you want to put in your brain since stupidity is also more visible online (Kardashian, Kanye, Trump). Then don’t depend too much on computers; the solution is not to ban technology altogether but to develop strategies of self-control. Care more about the real life and not gadgets' battery life.
If things continue as they do, humanity will eventually be divided into two groups: the techies that understand and control everything, and everyone else that completely dependent on technology to survive.
Here is a fact that you need to know: the more Internet-connected wearable devices we use, the greater the chance that we expose our privacy to prying eyes. First founded in March 2015, a new startup company, Revealo, creates a small tracking device that can be used to find lost valuables, pets, and people while still keeping its users’ locations safe.
Chief executive officer of Revealo, Piotr Oleszkiewicz, 36, is an entrepreneurial expert in information technology security. Originally from Wrocław, Poland, he was the senior security consultant of Surfland Systemy Komputerowe, S.A., the biggest IT integrator in his country. He is also the founder of the cybersecurity company SentiNode, a public speaker, and a Mensa member. Just like other young tech guys from all over the world, Oleszkiewicz came to the Bay Area to try and make it in Silicon Valley’s startup scene.
On July 15th at RocketSpace, the technology campus and networking space for startups in San Francisco, Oleszkiewicz discussed his latest development, Revealo technology. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Marisa Tania: Tell us more about yourself, what have you done in the past?
Piotr Oleszkiewicz: I created my first company, Inter-Pi, when I was 15-years-old. It was a personal computer sales company, and my high school was my first customer. As time passes, the margin on PC sales is growing smaller and smaller, and I wanted things that required more knowledge.
Then I created another company, SentiNode when I was 26. SentiNode is an IT security company, but it also has equipment sales, integration, and application developments. We are partners with Xerox, Adobe, and many more. And now I’ve created a management team to take care of SentiNode back in Poland while I am here in San Francisco focusing on my latest project, Revealo.
Tania: You have a strong cybersecurity background. How did you get involved in the IT security industry in the first place?
Oleszkiewicz: My first Internet access was when I was 10 years old in a university where my parents worked. This was three years before the telephone cable Internet, the time when probably there were only 100 world-web-servers in the world. When I was bored, I just used the university computer. I learned a lot about Internet security and how easy it is to break it. Now I want to use the knowledge in a good way and make money out of it.
Tania: Are you saying that you were a hacker?
Oleszkiewicz: You said that (laughing)
Tania: In your own words, can you explain what Revealo is?
Oleszkiewicz: With Revealo tracking technology, it is possible to track people or items on a citywide scale while keeping full privacy. Our patent pending technology allows us to scramble the wireless digital fingerprint using encryption systems, and limit the tracking capability only to the users’ encryption keys. So, no one unauthorized can track you unless you want them to.
Currently, we have ready prototypes. We are working on funding right now, and we are hoping to introduce Revealo to the public at the end of this year.
Tania: What technology does Reavealo use?
Oleszkiewicz: Revealo technology is different from the GPS and GSM solutions that are very power hungry. It is important for tracking products to work a pretty long time, and a GPS tracker that is lightweight and doesn’t have a big battery won’t work that long. If you want to protect your children or the elderly, they won’t remember to charge it every day. This is the first problem, and our technology allows the tracker to work for half a year to a year on a single coin cell battery. We are modifying Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE for privacy and two different wireless technologies for long-range tracking so that we can achieve 1.5 to 3 miles range in the city.
Tania: What does it look like in the tangible form?
Oleszkiewicz: The prototype is a PCB (Printed Circuit Board) at a fingernail size. For tracking people, it will be in a bracelet form or integrated with shoes. For tracking items, instead of having it as an attachment, the best way to use it is to integrate it directly into the product by the manufacturer so it would be impossible for a thief to remove it.
Tania: How about the patent? Is it a United States patent?
Oleszkiewicz: We already filed for a patent for our core intellectual property cryptographic system at the beginning of October 2015, and we will be extending our coverage internationally and adding more protection for different functions. The U.S. patent gives us a yearlong priority right for a worldwide patent from the first filing date.
Tania: Who is your target market?
Oleszkiewicz: We will probably be going the way of B2B2C (business to business to consumer), so we will interact directly with businesses that provide the service to the end customer.
Tania: Who do you think needs Revealo?
Oleszkiewicz: If you use a fitness tracker, smart watch or a simple “find me” type tag, then most probably you are at risk. The real problem with the existing tracking technology devices, like Tile or TRACKER, is that anyone can locate them. And this means it is easy to be tracked by criminals, simply a privacy disaster. For example, with pet trackers, Whistle, we want to protect our dogs, but at the same time we put them at risk by exposing their locations to others.
Criminals have access to a very basic and cheap tool set that can put people on their map. Our real-time location data can now be bought on the dark web (the black market of the internet) for as little as $13.30 per person per day.
Tania: But most people like me are not under a threat of being hacked, so why should we be aware of this?
Oleszkiewicz: You may not feel it, but it is happening regardless. And criminals are doing it on a massive scale. But of course it also depends on the level of risk you can accept, and also how interesting a target you are for the criminal.
Tania: What do you think about the future of wearable devices and cybersecurity?
Oleszkiewicz: Cybersecurity is becoming very important since more data is being exposed online. Wearables will grow smaller; probably they will be integrated into everyday devices. Imagine the functionality of Fitbit in your garments. And this could go bad if those products don’t have technology like ours.
Tania: You are originally from Poland. When and why did you move to San Francisco?
Oleszkiewicz: I first came here in February 2015. San Francisco is the world capital for startups, more of 50 percent of global funding happens here; it is the place to be.
Tania: What do you think about the startup culture in San Francisco?
Oleszkiewicz: Compared to other places, people have ‘the give it forward’ attitude here. People are really open; they are willing to share their experience and expertise. Some people will help you to achieve what you want without expecting something in return. But they will expect you to help someone else in the future, which is very nice.
Tania: Many high-profile startups ended up shuttering their doors. What is your opinion on this?
Oleszkiewicz: Most new startups have close to zero business experience or don’t have a real idea. If you try to create a startup that would be, let’s say, Uber for single moms, it doesn’t make sense because there is already Uber, and single moms can use it. The approach of taking an existing model that succeeded and trying to take compete in big markets is why a lot of these startups are dying.
Tania: How are you confident that Revealo will survive?
Oleszkiewicz: We are ahead of our competitors because Revealo is both safe and battery friendly. It is possible for distinct products to upgrade their current products with Revealo technology. Our goal is to become the biggest item tracking platform in the world.
I’ve run businesses for 20 years now; I am a technical person, but I am also a businessperson. It is also very important to understand that no one knows everything. When I don’t know what I am doing, it’s a wise thing to ask people who have been there for guidance.
Tania: So, you are a member of Mensa, and your IQ even surpasses above the maximum a test could measure. How does it feel to be a genius?
Oleszkiewicz: I would not trade my brain for anything else. It is super fun to be able to analyze complex issues in the blink of an eye, and it definitely helps my success.