Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Sidekick video chat device brings cubicle culture home

In a parallel to the Garden of Eden story (one of of The Matrix‘s many religious allusions), Agent Smith reveals that the film’s humanity-conquering machines first tried to create a virtual paradise for those whose bodies they harnessed, but the human mind was unable to accept such a world. Thus, humans were fated, i.e., “cast out,” to a more familiar existence simulation that included pain and suffering. Indeed, those who have had a forced adoption to remote work due to COVID-19 may grow to miss elements of office life that they once resented—be it serendipity that leads to better collaboration or the vacuous chumminess parodied by the “Richmeister” in the classic Saturday Night Live Makin’ Copies sketch series.

Some of each would doubtless be delivered by Sidekick, an always-on, purpose-built, stationary tablet-like device designed to keep coworkers in each others’ views and encourage spontaneous collaboration among tightly woven small teams. The product simulates the oft-resented and distracting casual peer surveillance of open office plans within one’s home or other remote location. It’s your own personal manifestation of Zoom without a Leave button.

Actually, the product’s website notes that the device can easily be turned off with a tap. Like any persistent entity, though, it’s apt to fade into the background, almost surely broadcasting some unintentionally shared moment. But that may become a given through other means if, as my Techspansive co-host Shawn DuBravac thinks, companies will become aggressive about employee surveillance as they continue to support remote work.

If you’re sold, you’ll be paying indefinitely. Sidekick is offered as a service on a subscription model so customers must ask why colleagues would need a dedicated device for something that could be easily achieved with a small Android tablet or iPad mini on a stand as well as why they would pay $25 (or more, starting next month) per user in perpetuity to gain its benefits.

There’s much to be said for reducing the friction in remote collaboration. However, Sidekick swings the pendulum too far, throwing out the baby of privacy with the bathwater of isolation. To borrow AT&T’s distracted driving admonition, Cubicle ambushing: It can wait.