How Quantified Should the Self Be?Posted: August 28, 2013
I recently came across an Austrian article that raises some interesting questions about the use of technology in “measuring” our lives (http://www.format.at/articles/1328/940/362012/die-vermessung-ich[in German]). The scope of this technology continues to increase and there are more opportunities for its insertion into our lives than ever before.
Here are some examples of the latest technology:
- an armband that measures physical activity, including steps taken, distance walked, and calories burnt; length and quality of sleep; and with auxiliary links to mobile devices and a scale, meal planning and weight management (http://www.fitbit.com/)
- work productivity software that measures active computer use and trends very precisely (http://www.rescuetime.com/) [That's us]
- a strap-on device for posture and movement monitoring and correction (http://www.lumoback.com/)
- a fork that measures eating habits and mechanics (http://www.hapilabs.com/)
- an all purpose physical activity device for multiple kinds of exercise (http://www.runtastic.com/)
- a scale that provides body anaylysis by measuring weight, BMI, body fat, and heart rate (and also local air quality to boot) (http://www.withings.com/scales)
- a diabetes app testing blood sugar (http://mysugr.com/)
- comprehensive health management software (https://www.dacadoo.com/)
Those who embrace this technology often self-identify as members of the “Quantified Self movement,” which is characterized by the search for informative feedback from devices such as those listed above. Some see in the wealth of available data a “digital reflection” of their lives – this is felt to be empowering, allowing individuals to achieve a greater degree of self-awareness and to take proactive steps to optimize efficiency, health, and happiness based on adjustment of recognized patterns. Sometimes the motivation for self-monitoring is a desire for improvement, sometimes for identifying and solving problems.
There are potential negative consequences to the adoption of this new technology and the hyper-analytical mindset and lifestyle that can result. Having such a wealth of data at one’s fingertips, and a feeling of overarching responsibility for this data, can lead a person to believe that they are accountable and culpable for everything that happens in their lives. There is also a danger of misinterpreting data – a person can mistakenly identify correlations among metrics and activities where there are none, or miss important ones that do exist. This misinformation can then be used to make lifestyle decisions with potentially harmful consequences. There are also issues with ownership of this data, its security, and its potential uses by others.
This raises a number of questions for debate:
1. Are there specific uses of self-measurement technology that you find seriously problematic?
2. Do we need some degree of education about understanding certain data to draw out the positive benefits of self-analysis and avoid pitfalls? If so, what would this education involve?
3. What type or types of measurement are the most important in the search for self-improvement?