The Age of Context is upon us. Sample this— today, technologies are beginning to “understand” things about the user and their environment-like their schedule, their heart rate and their location. Yes, this sounds almost too futuristic but interestingly, it is a regular feature of daily (human) life. A personalized “for instance”-I live in Bangalore and travel to Chennai quite regularly. During my time there, I typically end up eating all my meals at my relatives and friends’ houses. The common thread between them (apart from knowing my passion for curd rice) is that all my requirements are taken care of to the “T”. Simple things, such as my choice of food and beverage are kept in mind every time. Similarly, the folks at my office (much to their chagrin) remember to include my favourite foods at office parties (which, by the way, seem to be steadily decreasing as time goes by).

I wouldn’t like to brag and say that all this is done for the sheer love of me (though it wouldn’t hurt to think so) but the underlying message is interesting. All the people I mentioned above have the knowledge of my likes and dislikes and even better, have sought out this information in some way or the other.

So, back to my original point-The Age of Context will ensure that instead of the human touch, as illustrated above, machines would facilitate these “Eureka”-type situations.

Before we get too excited about this, however, I feel a disclaimer is in order. And here it is-issues such as privacy will sooner or later raise their ugly heads. So, while we can marvel over how much technology has advanced and how simple life is now, it comes at a price-the user’s privacy. Yes, Big Brother is watching.

Let’s not get too pessimistic, though and talk about the good stuff. The term, “The Age of Context” was coined by Robert Scoble (Author) and Shel Israel. These two gentlemen focus on how the five combined forces of mobile, social media, data, sensors and location are going to affect a user’s experiences online.

Needless to say, the blockbuster of the world of technology-the mobile handset-is the basic force that ties together the other four. Wait, before you argue that the mobile handset, having undergone various mutations over the years is an old story, let me elaborate. Today, the sheer numbers of mobile handsets on this planet have overtaken the general population. Don’t take my word for it, the good people at Gartner back me up-they have said that 45 billion apps were downloaded by end-2012 and this number is rapidly increasing. Number crunching isn’t required-this amounts to over six apps for every man, woman and child on earth. The (not so) humble mobile handset is like the Lord of the Rings-one device unlocks all the internet’s potential. It will unleash the super storm of context into the user’s life.

Another equally powerful entity (yes, it has reached such proportions where it can be considered an entity by itself) is social media. Today, a staggering 1.5 billion people are on social media. A billion tweets are posted every 48 to 72 hours-from what we ate to what our pets do next. No successful modern business worth its salt excludes a social media-centric strategy in their business plan. The Facebooks and Twitters of the world are here to stay.

Once a mythical concept, Big Data is now the most popular subject discussed around any office’s water cooler (I mean the tech aficionados again). More specifically, the three “V”s (Volume, Variety and Velocity) are now considered the Holy Trinity of the tech world. Imagine, from the humble black and white pictures one used to take in the good old days, the data cataloging a baby’s early days exceeds the data contained in the library of Congress by over 70-fold.  Staggering? Yes. But there is a sort of order in the chaos. What businesses are focusing on are those amazingly illuminating, often subtle insights into a customer’s mind. Yes, the sheer volume of information can (and often does) intimidate but the little pieces making up the puzzle go a long way to make businesses smarter and enable them to keep up with and make sense of an accelerating world.

Next, (and this bit may sound like it’s been lifted from Star Trek, but it hasn’t) are sensors. Data collected from sensors is exploding. All kinds are in force today-from wearable sensors to the kind that monitors the very air that you breathe! (Think Rackspace). Smartphones are indeed “smart” in this context-they not only contain an average of seven sensors but those clever app developers have launched various sensor-centric products that let you know where you are and what you are doing. Sensors know when you are heading or leaving home and can adjust your contextual thermostat accordingly. Good examples of this are Foursquare and Waze. Actually, now would be a good time to talk about Google Glass as well-the much awaited flagship contextual device, which will be aware of where you are, what you’re doing and even where you look!!

I am going to end this piece by putting in my two cents-I have strongly believed in the experience economy and I believe the Age of Context sets up the case and platform for staging highly personalized and contextual experiences for every consumer. However, I also relate any technology advances or discussions that I come across to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. So, I would have to say, though the Age of Context is applicable to all rungs in that ladder, it is currently applicable for people who have crossed rung two or more!

Though The Age of Context extols the “Connected Human” but available stats paint a different picture-even today, only one in three people can access the internet, alarming enough by itself. In my view, a sense of urgency needs to be exhibited before we even begin talking about the wonders of technology.

An eternal optimist however, I do look forward to the day when I receive an alert from Google that reads, “Curd Rice sold here”, the next time I am in Los Angeles!

Zunder Lekshmanan

Zunder Lekshmanan

Chief Technology Officer