Skimming an entirely unrelated article, I stumbled upon this gem:
Recently, a number of schools have started using a program called CourseSmart, which uses e-book analytics to alert teachers if their students are studying the night before tests, rather than taking a long-haul approach to learning. In addition to test scores, the CourseSmart algorithm assigns each student an “engagement index” which can determine not just if a student is studying, but also if they’re studying properly. In theory, a person could receive a “satisfactory” C grade in a particular class, only to fail on “engagement
This immediately reminded me of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel, Snow Crash where a government employee’s reading behavior has been thoroughly warped into simulacrum by a lifetime of overbearing surveillance:
Y.T.’s mom pulls up the new memo, checks the time, and starts reading it. The estimated reading time is 15.62 minutes. Later, when Marietta does her end-of-day statistical roundup, sitting in her private office at 9:00 P.M., she will see the name of each employee and next to it, the amount of time spent reading this memo, and her reaction, based on the time spent, will go something like this:
- Less than 10 min.: Time for an employee conference and possible attitude counseling.
- 10-14 min.: Keep an eye on this employee; may be developing slipshod attitude.
- 14-15.61 min.: Employee is an efficient worker, may sometimes miss important details.
- Exactly 15.62 min.: Smartass. Needs attitude counseling.
- 15.63-16 min.: Asswipe. Not to be trusted.
- 16-18 min.: Employee is a methodical worker, may sometimes get hung up on minor details.
- More than 18 min.: Check the security videotape, see just what this employee was up to (e.g., possible unauthorized restroom break).
Y.T.’s mom decides to spend between fourteen and fifteen minutes reading the memo. It’s better for younger workers to spend too long, to show that they’re careful, not cocky. It’s better for older workers to go a little fast, to show good management potential. She’s pushing forty. She scans through the memo, hitting the Page Down button at reasonably regular intervals, occasionally paging back up to pretend to reread some earlier section. The computer is going to notice all this. It approves of rereading. It’s a small thing, but over a decade or so this stuff really shows up on your work-habits summary.
Dystopian panoptical horrors were supposed to be cautionary tales – not specifications for new projects…
As one Hacker News commenter put it : in the future, you don’t read books; books read you !
Post-scriptum… Isn’t it funny that users don’t mind being spied upon by apps and pages but get outraged when e-books do ? It may be because in their minds, e-books are still books… But shouldn’t all documents and all communicated information be as respectful of their reader as books are ?