In recent months, China has repeatedly unsettled the West because of the way its government and major corporations treat its populace. Late last year, a police biometric monitoring system incorrectly identified a renowned CEO as a criminal. In March, the country unveiled a social credit system that barred millions of people from traveling.
However, a Chinese company recently indicated the nation had tipped over into full-on dystopia by introducing a disturbing new practice. Nanjing West River Environmental Services outfitted its sanitation workers with snazzy new smart bracelets. The corporation’s wearables serve three purposes: track employee movements, record timecard punches, and ensure they never stopped working.
‘Please Continue Working’
The waste collection firm’s internet-enabled activity trackers emitted a warning to staffers who stayed in the same place for 20 minutes; “please continue working, add oil!” The South China Morning Post notes the phrase “add oil” is a colloquial expression meaning “work harder” or “keep going.”
On April 3, local media outlets reported on Nanjing West River’s unique form of productivity boosting. Predictably, the waste management company faced significant backlash for its new tagging and prodding policy.
Users of the popular Chinese social media platform Weibo slammed the sanitation organization for prizing profits over human dignity. Locals were especially incensed that the business spent money establishing a cutting-edge surveillance system given the low wages it pays its employees.
Despite the outcry, West River’s executives initially defended its smartwatch program on the basis that it “greatly improved” operational efficiency. However, the firm ultimately chose to deactivate the activity reminder feature in its employee trackers.
Big Brother Knows How You’re Feeling
While the use of wearables as human tethers might align with China’s forced conformity measures, the technique is gaining traction worldwide.
Last year, an Indian sanitation company equipped its workers with GPS wristwatches to accurately record their attendance. The corporation distributed trackers to its 8,000 person workforce after a pilot program uncovered a 55 percent absenteeism rate.
Similarly, Amazon filed two patents in 2018 for smart wristbands that track warehouse employees’ movements and performance levels. Worker advocates criticized the Silicon Valley giant for being overly invasive after the patent filings were publicized. So far, the corporation has not deployed its new productivity monitors.
However, consumer outrage may not sway corporations from using wearable surveillance tech if it greatly improves their profit margins. Indeed, a recent study conducted by Goldsmiths, University of London found wearables boosted employee productivity by 76 percent.
Not to be outdone, the Chinese government recently developed new technology that may be the future of behavior-modifying wearables. With funding from the government, Ningbo University developed a wireless sensor system that can detect a worker’s emotional state. The school made its brain scanning sensors small enough to fit in branded caps and hats.
Emotional surveillance technology provides employers with insights necessary to adjust break times and work assignments for optimal performance and workflow. Ominously, the so-called Neuro Caps have proven to be wildly effective. The State Grid Zhejiang Electric Power Company saw its profits rise by $315 million after implementing the technology in 2014.
Consequently, workers across the world may soon need to start thinking happy thoughts while on the clock to stay employed.