SELF - System Effective Lifestyle Filtering

February 1, 2012
by Jonathan MacDonald

This was originally a chapter from the book ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ by Jonathan MacDonald. The piece itself was written in 2012.


A thought on how technology could be used as an advanced concierge.

System Effective Lifestyle Filtering, or SELF for short, is a concept I’ve been thinking about since I first used the Internet decades ago.

From time to time, people ask me what I look for in technology, or what cool stuff have I seen that really makes sense to me. I try and answer as honestly as possible, but if I were really pressed on it, I’d have to say there is still a significant divide between what I need and what is actually provided.

Here is what I need:

1. Automation of repeatable tasks, as I dislike repeating the same tasks when I have more productive things to do

2. Efficiency of task completion, when I do wish to carry out the tasks myself

3. Subtlety of operation, so that whatever automates or makes efficient, is invisible, silent and takes up little or no room in terms of space, and ideally using insignificant processing power

4. Personalisation of how technology works for me, meaning I don’t need to learn a behaviour that is set by a developer, publisher or producer

5. Compatibility of technology, across any platform, meaning I can use anything I have in conjunction with anything else

6. Intelligence of technology, to learn based on insight, enabling permanent betterment and a reduction of insufficiency

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but after researching the industry over many years, and even spying the trends and developments, there is still a gap between how things work, and how I need them to work. Not only in technological deployments, but also in the mindset of many who bring solutions to market in general. The nearest thing is something like Tasker and other variants – but I’m thinking about how we can extend that from apps only, into the real world, regardless of device and environment.

I’ve tried a multitude of solutions that claim to link together numerous parts of my digital existence. From Plaxo to MobileMe, from RoadSync to Google Apps.

Solutions that can integrate my calendar, email, contacts, notes so that everything is ‘all in one place’.

I’m a massive fan of the cloud and I’m attracted to things that allow me to access stuff on any machine and a screen.

I’ve played with scheduling apps; really cool GTD (Getting Things Done) tools like Omnifocus, services like Tungle and in the past you’d have rarely found a bigger advocate of Evernote than me.

I like things to be in sync and accessible, and I’d pay a significant premium if someone could guarantee me a permanent, strong, and fast Internet connection throughout the major cities in the world.

However, something is lacking.

I say this, aware that some may reply, “ah, but you haven’t tried this,” and I’m still unaware of anything that exists to truly answer my needs in this context.

I know for sure I’m imagining things that are platform independent, and agnostic in all ways. Made up of elements that require more psychology than technology in development.

Here are some trends in my life – and how SELF technology would work. Remember, I’m not talking about an application here – I’m talking about the glue that fits between random applications:

Back when I was consulting, between 8am and 8.25am I was mostly available to take calls as I was driving to a train station.

SELF technology would have configured my phone to ensure that the signal was strongest for me and alert the people who I’d enabled to see I could take a call. Whispering to all parties “2 minutes remaining” at 8.23am.

Between 9.27am and 9.29am when working in London, I would call up a colleague to find out where she is so we can meet and start work. She was often at a coffee shop 100 metres away from the station I arrived at. I always ordered fresh mint tea. She had a double espresso and water without ice. Consistently.

SELF technology would have looked up my colleague’s location and queried whether we were meeting there or somewhere else. Confirming we should meet, SELF would order (and pay for) my fresh mint tea as I turn the corner onto the street where the coffee shop was, so it was served as I arrived. At the same time, the ice machine would know it was her water being poured so didn’t dispense the ice into her cup, as she didn’t like ice.

When I travel to Heathrow airport, I always pre-buy car parking (as it’s cheaper), and always for the same car park.

SELF technology would sense my calendar and if it sees a Heathrow booking, it would reserve a parking space for me, alert me it had done so, then (if I press PAY), it would automatically pay the car park using my preferred bank details.  

When I go on the tube to a meeting, I get out at the correct station (hopefully), then pretty much always open my calendar application to get the address, copy it, then open my maps application and hope there is sufficient signal to locate where I am in relation to where I am going.

SELF technology would automatically cache the map location so I can see it underground without signal. SELF triggers my device to vibrate when the correct tube station has been reached, then speaks to me a step-by-step guide of where I need to get to, regardless of signal. SELF alerts the receptionist of my arrival time and triggers a name badge to be generated, if applicable.

Most of the overland trains I get are packed full of people. Sometimes it’s ok and I will crush in with everyone else. Other times, it’s vital to get a seat (chair or floor, I don’t care) as I have work to do which is harder standing up.

SELF technology alerts me to the parts of the train that have seating, as I’m walking down the platform, in real-time. Also, as stations are arrived at, SELF alerts me of newly available seating in other carriages.

These are just some random examples, but you can see that even in these simple versions, there are requirements that currently stretch the boundaries of what’s available.

When smart fridges are commonplace, it will be SELF technology that you enable to link what you bought to your tendency to prefer a salad on a Monday, rather than cooked food.

SELF technology isn’t just an app. It’s not a replacement for existing software.

It’s not owned by the likes of Google or Apple – but yet it glues together parts of their native and developer utilities.

It’s not exclusive to mobile (hence the fridge example).

It’s as proficient and converged as you want it to be, or as basic as you demand.

SELF should have an option to be free of charge – however, people can pay if they find it of value.

If they do, maybe 70% goes to furthering the development in terms of human benefit, 30% goes to the developers who enable SELF technology within their creations.

It would be a triple-win: developers have a new revenue stream, people have a totally compatible link between disparate systems, whilst productive improvement for humans is supported.

In closing, let’s consider Christopher Kahler who once wrote for Mashable about “Why today’s developers might be programming themselves out of tomorrow’s jobs” argued that, “Eventually you won’t need to have any technological knowledge in a world increasingly defined by technology”, finally stating that, “The only remaining question is: Where are your ideas going to bubble up from?”

My answer is this: Hopefully from a SELF perspective.

Hopefully from a mindset that stitches together tiny elements of our lives that currently require tolerance.

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