Say Big Brother and most people will think of mindless trash TV where the worst thing that happens is another celebrity makes another controversial statement.
But before Channel 4 first decided to make the entire celebrity D-list squirm, George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (often published as 1984) took a bleak look at what can happen if people’s privacy is taken away.
Now, 68 years after the book, technology is edging us closer and closer to a world where that’s a reality.
We all know about the explosion in CCTV cameras but now business has recognised the value of technology in improving productivity.
The question is, with tracking technology and wearables tipped to boost productivity, is the juice really worth the squeeze?
One company that thinks so is Total Control Pro, who I spoke to at the Factories of the Future Expo in Manchester this week.
The company makes ‘live track and trace technology’ – which really sounds more like a fancy description of sniffer dogs than anything you’d find in a factory.
Jake Sanders, their marketing and communications man, explained that by placing scannable barcodes around a factory, businesses can find out everything they need to know about their production cycle quickly and efficiently.
Using the barcodes employees can scan in and out, show which jobs they’re working on and even use special problem barcodes to flag when something’s gone awry.
“It gives people control of the manufacturing process, and also reduces the amount of paper they use,” he said.
The good news is that it’s simple to use, makes great use of data – the company provides a real-time dashboard breakdown for users – and highlights bottlenecks and problems.
In the case of Total Control Pro the staff have been actively involved in the process but what about companies where technology is imposed on them?
This can raise questions around privacy and the impact on trust for the modern workforce.
At the moment we’re probably still hanging out on the right side of the fence. Increased transparency and figuring out pain points is something that most companies are still working towards and technology can help them get closer to both of these things.
In an even more extreme example, there’s been talk recently of companies wanting workers to don wearables so that the employer can monitor their health – again, well-meaning but also a bit creepy. In this instance, who would own the data?
Technology isn’t going away but businesses need to consider the consequences before implementation otherwise 1984 might become an unwelcome reality.