Ever get bored of the workplace routine? You commute to work, walk into a building, go through security, swipe a nametag, log onto a computer, make small talk with Billy in accounting about season 2 of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and only at that point are you able to actually start your wonderful job.
No one should ever silence your Netflix water cooler talk, but all that other stuff? Those nagging little things you have to do every day to actually start being productive? What if you could bypass all of it – just by being you?
Well, you actually can – if you’re willing to have a microchip roughly the size of a grain of rice inserted under your skin. And some organizations are encouraging their employees to do just that.
The Three Square Market Model
Three Square Market, a Wisconsin-based company, made headlines last year when they inserted (optional) microchips into some of their employees. CEO Todd Westby envisions workers being able to access the building, log onto computers, use the copy machine, purchase food, and complete a handful of other routine functions – all with their microchip. No passwords, no plastic name tags with goofy pictures, no clunky wallets.
These microchips use near-field communication (NFC), a subset of radio-frequency identification (RFID), to share data on a unique frequency in close proximity to other “tagged” objects. NFC tech is often used for mobile payments or contactless credit cards.
These employees are biohacking themselves – inserting devices and chemicals into their bodies that will enhance functionality. In this case, a wave of the hand saves a lot of time and space in their pockets. Believe it or not, this isn’t some weird sci-fi trend that will never stick. Noelle Chelsey, a 49-year-old sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, believes chipping is inevitable: “It will happen to everybody, maybe not in my generation, but certainly that of kids.”
This may be the future of the office.
Employer Perceptions in 2018
Today’s chips, such as the ones used by Three Square Market, cannot be tracked. They exist passively for workplace convenience. But both proponents and critics of biohacking recognize that microchips could indeed be used for tracking – and a bevy of other functions – in the future.
For some folks, the question “would you get chipped?” makes them feel like a beagle puppy about to be implanted with a new tracking device. Others jump right to dystopia, alluding to 1984 or A Handmaid’s Tale to describe the long-term consequences of biohacking.
Dr. Lynda Shaw, a cognitive neuroscientist, empathizes with these widespread trepidations: “There’s always the sinister side of us that says this is a bit too Orwellian,” she observes. “People might become worried about computer viruses living in their bodies or about what happens when and if the hardware becomes corrupted.”
There’s plenty of testimonials online from folks who have actually tried it. Its innovators believe younger generations will be more receptive to chipping in the future, so we reached out to two millennials in very different work segments for their takes.
Sara Kesneck, a speech language pathologist in Saint Petersburg, Florida, acknowledged the wider benefits of chipping technology, suggesting that it could be used to track vitals and provide crucial personal and medical information for patients. But as an employee? “I would definitely have concerns about how the data would be used in the hands of a general company, and even more concerns about how it could be used when placed in or stolen by the wrong hands.”
Milan Landaverde, a remote software engineer currently living in Philadelphia, PA, said he wouldn’t mind being chipped, and pointed to the benefits for both employers and employees in a remotes scenario: “I would like the ability to see my peak energy levels. Am I most productive from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. or from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.? Depending on the exact data they are seeing, I wouldn’t mind my employer monitoring this.” But Mr. Landaverde worries about where the technology is headed. As the chips become more sophisticated, he will have more concerns.
Things Could get Chippy
Rohit Talwar, CEO of the think tank Fast Future, believes that biohacking will be especially prevalent in tech companies. In addition to conveniences such as those granted to the chipped employees at Three Square Company, Talwar thinks the technology could be used for security innovations – keeping the wrong people out of the building and the network and impressing clients with cutting-edge tech.
As microchip tech continues to shed its cult status, it’s hard to ignore some of the bigger picture innovations. For instance, Biohax International is revolutionizing Sweden’s national railway system by replacing paper tickets with microchip-in-hand tickets.
Chip proponents don’t shy away from the more candid conversation of what chipping can do for the human body outside of the workplace. According to Talwar, “You could easily predict your mobile phone memory being inserted into you, chips to accelerate your memory and your brain…we could see a massive acceleration in this as we move into enhancing and augmenting ourselves and stepping into the world of transhumanism.” As biohacking evolves, so does our relationship with machines.
Realistically, it may be decades before microchips are common in the workplace, but it’s never too early to consider issues of employee privacy, and the benefits and dangers of biohacking. Everyone has an opinion – no need to get too chippy.
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