Wearable Technology: measure for measure

One of the sponsors at Wimbledon is using wearable technology to track the mood of the crowd- using heart rate, movement and location of the individual plus crowd movement, audio levels and infra-red. But is it truly tracking something as nebulous as mood?

It’s hardly the first example of wearable technology in this area. I’ve had a device that claimed to measure my mood since I was a teenager, and just like the devices above, it was basing analysis of my mood on measuring something else- my temperature. While it claimed to be showing that I was relaxed and happy, what it really meant was that I had warm hands.


Today’s  wearable tech is considerably more developed and more is appearing on the market these days, with Google Glass and Smartwatches such as the Pebble being marketed. People are even going past mere wearable tech to embedding an oyster card in their arm to make travelling easier. Speculation on the possible uses of wearable technology in libraries is occurring in several places, with the theory that this could be a very big issue for libraries in the next few years.

However, with these new apps and objects come a great many generalisations of the sort that applied to my old mood ring. This technology will show how calm you are; this app will help you get a good night’s sleep. But what we mustn’t lose sight of is what is actually being measured.

The Muse app mentioned before isn’t measuring how calm you are, but how mindful you are, reading the brain waves accompanying your breathing. Some sleep monitors don’t tell you how well you slept, but how still you were.  These things are being connected by hypothesis and don’t necessarily tell the whole story. Another big issue with both wearable technology and the Internet of Things is who owns the data gathered and how it will be shared.

With any data it is important to interpret it correctly and knowing how it can lead you astray with false positives will help. If we take these monitors too literally they will be no more helpful than a mood ring.