Computers: getting under your skin?

I have recently participated in the annual conference of the Academy of Marketing, which this year took place in Southampton. The conference was kick-started by Charles Hofacker, Professor of Marketing at Florida State University.

The keynote speaker noted that, over time, computers have moved closer and closer to the user. For instance, he recalled that, as a student, the computer was this large object located in one of the buildings on the university campus. Later, there were computers in each building, somewhere down the hall. At some point, computers became personal, first moving to your desk, then your lap and, eventually, your hand in the form of smartphones and tablets.

The next stage is that of wearable computers, such as Google’s project glass – contact lenses that allow users to make calls, take pictures or get directions.

And, then, there is technology inside our bodies. We already insert chips into our pets, so it is not complex from a technical perspective. The main barrier is the (negative) perception we have.

How would you feel about having a chip inserted into your arm with your identity and banking details? It is very small – about the size of a grain of rice – and, if you go ahead with the ‘procedure’, you will no longer need to carry your wallet with you. Hence, if you want to purchase something, all you have to do is have your arm ‘scanned’ by a device that ‘reads’ the chip, and the correct amount will be deducted from your bank account.


Probably not. Maybe this scenario makes you feel like your personal space is being invaded. It may remind you of surveillance operations and make you worry about your privacy.

But perceptions can be changed, of course. It all depends on how the situation is framed.

Nobel laureates Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman showed through a series of experiments that our decisions depend more on how the situations are presented than on the facts themselves. For instance, we are more likely to walk 20 minutes to take advantage of an offer of 50% off a £10 product, than to take up an offer of £5 off a £125 one. In both scenarios, the 20 minutes would save us £5 and, so, our decision should be the same in both cases. But it isn’t.

Back to the chip in your arm… A few years ago, a popular nightclub in a busy Spanish beach resort offered this very same proposition to a very limited number of its customers – the offer was available to the best customers, only. Not only was this offer scarce, but it was also a privilege.

Did customers take up this offer?

Oh, yes!

Negative terms like personal space, surveillance or privacy, gave away to positive ones like convenience, stress free nights, status and reward for loyalty. Still the same technology, but framed in a very tempting way.

What about you?

Do you think that having a chip inserted in your arm will always be one step too far for information technology? Or could you see a scenario where you would want one? For instance, if it allowed you to jump the security check at the airport? Maybe, if it accelerated screening at the hospital, in case of an emergency?

9 thoughts on “Computers: getting under your skin?

  1. When we needed a new catflap recently we got on of those MicroChip flaps – it keeps out the other moggies that are intent on intimidating out own mog.

    She wasnt chipped so it was off to the vet – £20 later and 10 mins and she was done – appartently painless and sterile And the darling cat is chipped. If it works for her it can practically work for us – but there are psychological aspects for us – we have choice and the cat doesnt.

    I came across TEDMED talks recently – I had no idea there was success a forum – and I watched a guy called Chris Toumazou who is all about the silicon going into the body – this stuff is being done in oxfordshire and fixes hearing, mitigates diabetes and can interface with our DNA – and he does it in a very different way – people are analogue – digital is clunky for the human interface

    Isnt it great when you stumble on someone who things out-of-the box and then gets under your skin….

    This is Chris’s talk – its geeky. But…there is a good chance he is Welsh which makes him twice-cool, so Im sharing 🙂

    ALSO – liking the new blog layout and graphics – very swish!



    1. Oh, yes, in practical terms it works for us. It is the psychological part that is the main barrier – feeling ‘chipped’, feeling controlled… and the invasion of the personal space. And if you want to feel even worse about the prospect of having such technology inside your body, just take a look at this (somehow alarmist) video:

      Great video by the way – though, I am not sure how I feel about sharing 80% of my DNA with a banana 🙂

      PS – thanks for the comments re: the blog’s look. It’s not my own skills or merit – it’s the good folks at wordpress.


      1. That Marc Goodman talk is great – its the first time Ive seen technology showcased so convincingly. I guess when the technology challenge looks so insurmountable that is while we talk of the battle of ‘hearts and minds’ and ethics becomes the last obstacle to seeing things go bad. Or a sense of community that can pulls people together to act collectively for some positive outcome.

        It really is a great talk. Maybe is criminals ruled the economy there wouldnt be a recession….

        RE: The Bananna DNA – I intend on using that as my excuse the next time I get picked up for slouching over my laptop

        “Sit up straight!”
        “Yeah man, but Im like, 80% bananna…” (Hams the posture of a big yellow curvy fruit)




  2. Like it! This got me thinking…

    Mrs T is a vet and swears by the painlessness of this procedure in cats and dogs. Although they do have the genetic advantage of a scruff. So, location and short-term physical discomfort aside, I’m game for this.

    Sell me on ALL the possibilities: payments, ID, home & car door opening, medical, tickets, that drawer full of plastic cards with magnetic strips on that won’t fit in my wallet and isn’t to hand when I need it.

    My initial reaction to discovering plastic bank notes in Australia > weird. Then people explained that you could keep notes in your board-shorts when you went in the sea without ruining them. “Cold beer after a surf without worrying about your wallet getting nicked on the beach” problem solved > brilliant.

    Reading Nudge and Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow at the moment – SPOILER ALERT – we are pretty terrible at making decisions and are easily lead. So track down the extreme users/early adopters and wait for the rest to follow. This could be a norm in no time.


      1. Yup, I go with her to the practice some evenings when there are in-patients and they rarely even notice normal injections into the scruff. Amazing.


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