Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy

After waking up, you walk over to the shower. It is already running and at your preferred temperature (P. 173). After you dress in one of the outfits suggested to you by your closet according to the weather, you walk out of your house (P. 174). The door locks automatically behind you as it recognizes you are leaving for the day (P. 136). As you sit in your car while it drives, your car senses an upcoming change in weather, and turns on the window defroster right before you approach a snowstorm (P. 91). As your bracelet/watch senses a drop in your blood sugar indicating you are hungry, an ad for your favorite breakfast place — only two blocks away from your current location — pops up on your dashboard (P. 157). Once you arrive at work, your glasses remind you of your meetings for the day and any commitments you may have forgotten (P. 128). You did not input any of them into your calendar, but rather your Personal Digital Assistant heard you schedule them and kept track for you.


In Corning’s 2011 “A Day Made of Glass” video, your wardrobe will auto-populate your body virtually, so you can see an outfit without even needing to pick up the item of clothing.

Despite this seemingly impossible series of things going on at the exact moment you need them, all the technologies that make this day possible already exist, and once they are adopted, it won’t take long to make it a reality.

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel create the perfect mixture of technology and business expertise. Including Age of Context, they have co-written three books examining technology. This one examines the future of emerging technologies and predicts what the future could hold in an effort to prepare us for it. In each chapter, a different aspect of technology or life is examined to reveal how it could change in the next 20 years. The topics range from cars and wearable devices to healthcare and contextual marketing. With these technologies, each chapter also explores the many possible privacy and corruption concerns.


The authors of Age of Context, Shel Israel (left) and Robert Scoble (right). 

The Age of Context examines five forces of modern technology that, in combination, are used to advance every part of our lives. The five forces are mobile, social media, data, sensors, and location. Mobile allows you to bring new technology anywhere (made possible by Moore’s Law), and sensors allow you to interact with the technology as it becomes smarter. A Tesla can recognize its owner by face, recreating the human sense of sight to make theft more difficult. Then, using sensors again, it can drive you on auto-pilot to wherever you request. Social media and location are the information sources that will fuel all this. Anywhere you go and anything you put online can be used to learn more about you in context of the other things you search online. Lastly, data storage allows all this information to be taken, and added to the “Big Data” mountain.

Technology continuously gets to know us better, to a point where it may even know us better than we know ourselves. In the world that the authors envision, life keeps getting more convenient. The next big thing is coming every day and The Age of Context informs us of what to expect if we hop on the technology train.

In-Depth – Pinpoint Marketing

One of the interesting uses for technology that was brought up was Pinpoint Marketing. Marketing tactics have long taken the heat for bombarding the general public with messages. Nearly all of the ads you see in your daily life have nothing to do with you and even if they did, they would never stand out in the clutter. With the rise of context, marketing will immensely change how new products target customers. Advertisements won’t be noticeable, but rather when you ask Siri for a good restaurant nearby, her recommendation can be influenced by a paid ad from a local restaurant. When you are looking for an app to do a certain function, a newly created product will be the one you hear about since they paid to be a top search. Marketing dollars will no longer be spent on such a large scale. A company can spend less to target only 27-35-year-old men who work within 15 miles of a city center and eat lunch out three or more days a week. With “Pinpoint Marketing” only these people will be targeted. From a customer side, you will only be sold things that you need when you need them and it will be in much less obnoxious ways. Unfortunately, despite the benefits, this type of marketing can be extremely intrusive, as you can no longer recognize a paid ad from a genuine recommendation.

Young startup companies, like the ones we will visit, should be the ones who pioneer this method. They are the fastest moving and they can adapt the most easily as soon as they realize something isn’t working. Not only will this give them a way to gain a market hold, but it will add another dimension to the way they are making news.


Age of Context was published in 2014, so unfortunately some of the technologies Scoble and Israel had their eyes on have already failed. It was interesting, however, to compare the world they imagined to the progress that has been made in just four short years. The biggest prediction that did not come true for Scoble and Israel was Google Glass. Despite the initial buzz for the product, it never took off. While reading I didn’t even know most of what they were covering on Google Glass until I looked it up. They believed wearables like eyeglasses or contact lenses that function as a tiny screen would be everywhere. Although I believe there will be widespread use of wearable screens, and the root of the authors’ predictions are still applicable, their obsession with Google Glass is distracting from the main points of the book. In terms of nostalgia, reading The Age of Context is worth it if you want to see where we have come from. Unfortunately, Scoble and Israel’s emphasis of Google Glass removes the book from the present.

google glass insert.png

Google Glass (above) was criticized for being unfashionable as well as creating privacy concerns as the eyepiece can record photos and videos, thus “seeing” everything the user sees.

I’m glad I chose this book as it did prompt me to keep an eye out for technologies that have changed significantly in the recent past. How is it that Google Maps knows to tell me the estimated time from work back home at the exact moment I sit down in my car? How does Instagram know to put an MVMT ad on my feed the day I search that company from my computer? The Age of Context truly is here, and with some refining, there is no reason technology won’t soon know exactly what we need a moment before we realize we need it.

5 thoughts on “Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy

  1. This sounds like a really interesting book to read to understand what the future of tech might entail. While it’s extremely convenient that Google maps automatically tells me how long my drive home will be or that my Instagram ads are of something that I’m interested in buying, it is at the same time somewhat concerning. I think it’s important to think about whether we should be willing to compromise our privacy for the sake of convenience.


  2. Hey Shelby! This is an awesome summary, and I especially loved the way you started it out with the everyday tasks that future technologies could have such a large impact on. The pinpoint marketing is particularly interesting, as recently I have noticed more and more targeted ads, whether it is something I mentioned in conversation or looked up a similar product. I am excited to learn more about the shift in money spent by marketers in the near future. I loved the post, and I’ll see you in class tomorrow!


  3. Hey Shelby, I read the same book and really enjoyed your take on it –– particularly what you said about pinpoint marketing, as it was a theme that I glossed over. I find it funny how both of us picked up on the authors’ obsession with Google Glass, they really wanted that one to succeed (Probably because Scoble has a pair himself).
    I look forward to discussing the book more with you tomorrow!


  4. Great summary! I really enjoyed the vivid picture you paint to begin. With companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple chasing the “smart home” market, this dream might not be too distant! I think your takeaway of examining technological advancements more closely is spot on — I have always wondered how Google Maps can pinpoint my ETA to within a few minutes, regardless of traffic. With the level of technological advancement today, the five forces will prove pivotal in shaping the future!


  5. Interesting. You know, I think I read this book in 2015, so the technology didn’t seem dated. But it’s just a reminder how fast this stuff changes. Google Glass isn’t totally dead, though, they have found some productive applications in the Enterprise setting, and have pivoted the product to that direction.


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