Wearables to Keep Politicians Honest
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
By Fiona Zublin
When Muhammadu Buhari became Nigeria’s president in May, a local think tank decided not to trust in the goodness of anyone’s heart, and thus was born the Buharimeter: a website that tracks the president’s performance on each of his campaign promises. Supposedly it already has thousands of users, all of them keen to hold the president to account, and their common refrain is, “Why was this not done for previous administrations?”
Great idea, though maybe a bit retro. After all, technology has devised way better tracking methods, capable of measuring everything from our blood pressure to the steps we take to the number of hours we sleep at night. Why not subject our democratically elected leaders to the same rigmarole? We’re thinking a wearable, something between a Fitbit and an ankle bracelet, whose data would be available to the public. It would provide instant info on everyone from your city council members to the president of the United States, offering up an effectiveness rating the way your sleep-tracking app does. Your sleep quality last night was 7 percent. Your politician’s effectiveness was 35 percent — and it looks like he just checked into the penthouse at the Four Seasons on the taxpayers’ dime. You’re going to need another cup of coffee on a day like that.
We should be spying on our leaders instead of them spying on us.
No doubt, wearables might make our leaders uncomfortable. Nobody likes their movements and doings monitored on a daily basis, as we so resoundingly discovered in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency. But that’s the thing: In a democracy, leaders serve the public, and are accountable to its members. Which is why we should be spying on them instead of them spying on us.
Yes, security could be a worry. But we expect the tech geniuses would come up with ways to block the transmission of certain high-security data. Besides, the main promise of the wearable revolution concerns performance; tracking is said to improve it. As it is, politicians obsessively follow their poll numbers — the public would be better off if they turned that obsession to monitoring their effectiveness. An app that pops up on their phone or smartwatch every morning would be a kick in the pants, a physical reminder of their obligation to their constituents.
And who knows? We might be pleasantly surprised. Political science research looking at presidential pledges from Woodrow Wilson through Jimmy Carter found that presidents tend to keep about 75 percent of their promises — and those who don’t can reasonably blame strong congressional opposition. Imagine waking up to find that your congresswoman was 75 percent effective at getting you everything she’d promised. That’d put a smile on your face.
Is it time to introduce politicians to the wearable revolution? Let us know.