10 June 2011

This Is Your Life

...almost imperceptibly, numbers are infiltrating the last redoubts of the personal. Sleep, exercise, sex, food, mood, location, alertness, productivity, even spiritual well-being are being tracked and measured, shared and displayed _NYT
Secret hopes, secret fears, secret compartments stowed securely around the nooks and crannies of our minds...plus the many details of our lives that we refuse to share, and push beneath the level of consciousness. Perhaps there is no one to be trusted with secrets so deep (or so shallow). Some of these secret rooms serve a useful purpose -- even if only from time to time:
"In every heart there is a room,
A sanctuary safe and strong,
To heal the wounds from lovers past,
Until a new one comes along"
— Billy Joel _Goodreads
But we can create so many secret stashes of thoughts, whims, moods, ideas, emotions, locked and stowed away, so that even we ourselves lose track of who we are and what we want to become. But wouldn't it be better -- wouldn't WE be better -- if we were able to integrate the potential energies of these hidden stashes of personal feelings and information, and free ourselves up?

Meditation, relaxation training, creative visualisation, introspection, and positive affirmations can only take us so far. We need to actually look deeply and objectively at what we are doing and how we are progressing. And that is where the new technological tools of personal and mobile telecomputing can shine.

Decades ago, it was learned that people will reveal things to a computer which they would never confide to another person. So over the years, a computer and internet industry called "self-tracking" has grown up to provide personal tools of self-knowledge and self integration, along with a number of social tools allowing people to share what they know and are learning.
The self-tracking movement, which has sprung to life over just the last couple of years, is enabled in large part by both wireless sensing devices and smart phones. Many people already employ smart phone apps to track food intake and fitness, but a new generation of apps also tracks mood, meditation, migraines and other factors. _TechnologyReview
Self tracking is not a new phenomenon -- it is as old as the maxim "the unexamined life is not worth living." But in the new world of mobile computing and advanced wireless interfacing, self tracking is quickly expanding into new territories.
* There is no end to what can be, and will be, tracked. At each QS meeting I am surprised and amazed at the unpredictable qualities that people will monitor and the clever ways in which they will attempt to quantify them. We've seen one person (or more) track one (or more) of these: sex, dates, attention span, REM sleep, car routes, daydreams, caffeine intake, people they meet, every keystroke, arithmetic speed, allergic reactions, mood, happiness, footsteps, memory recall, body motion, and every medical and health related factor one can quantify. Also check out the lifeloggers.

* There is no end to folks hoping to make a better tool to sell to self-trackers. Like the early days of personal computers, most of the tools available now are primitive and often first cobbled together by someone for their own use. That's what makes the groups so interesting. But as what works and what is desirable settles out, slickness will move in. There's lots of money watching. _Technium

We do not need to know or reveal everything about ourselves. That would be not only impossible but imprudent. What we are looking for is ways to free and direct our flows of energy to build more satisfying lives.
Jon Cousins, an Englishman who had "bouts of dreadful depression" since his 20s but managed to hide it and be reasonably functioning in the world. In his mid-50s, he finally went to see a psychiatrist, and she told him that it seemed likely that he was bipolar: Would he mind tracking his mood for three months so that the condition could be verified? Cousins couldn't find a ready way to do this, so he started using a psychological test that was a set of 20 cards with adjectives. He also tracked his scores on a graph, noting the ups and downs in his mood.

It's when Cousins is unspooling his mood graph that he reveals that he's got a touch of the magician about him (skip to 7:25 in the video). At the end of one summer, some of his friends ask to be kept informed of his mood scores, and all of a sudden his scores rise to a high plateau and stay there. As Cousins relates, the "sheer act" of knowing that other people cared about his mood had the effect of lifting his mood. He's not cured, he still has his down days and weeks, but measuring and sharing has helped, sometimes remarkably. He's moved the whole system online to a site called Moodscope. _Slate

Quantified Self is one website which is trying to monitor the many different apps for self-tracking. Here are 154 videos providing more information on some of these apps. Here is the YouTube channel for Morning Coach, one of the most popular apps.

The idea of examining one's life under a microscope is not appealing to many people. And yet the potential power of such an examination to unleash hidden strengths and talents and to increase our personal satisfaction, makes a very compelling case in favour of self-examination and quantification.
We tolerate the pathologies of quantification — a dry, abstract, mechanical type of knowledge — because the results are so powerful. Numbering things allows tests, comparisons, experiments. Numbers make problems less resonant emotionally but more tractable intellectually. In science, in business and in the more reasonable sectors of government, numbers have won fair and square.

For a long time, only one area of human activity appeared to be immune. In the cozy confines of personal life, we rarely used the power of numbers. The techniques of analysis that had proved so effective were left behind at the office at the end of the day and picked up again the next morning. The imposition, on oneself or one’s family, of a regime of objective record keeping seemed ridiculous. A journal was respectable. A spreadsheet was creepy.

And yet, almost imperceptibly, numbers are infiltrating the last redoubts of the personal. Sleep, exercise, sex, food, mood, location, alertness, productivity, even spiritual well-being are being tracked and measured, shared and displayed. _NYT

Numbers can show us more aspects of the truth about ourselves and our worlds, allowing us to make necessary changes or to do more of what works. We still need to use the forms of meditation, introspection, affirmation etc that work for us.

And we may as well admit it now: Resistance is futile. In many ways, we are all cyborgs now. Even if we do not have machine implants and replacements, almost everyone reading this relies upon information and feedback from complex machines. The best forms of this reliance enable synergism at high levels. This is your life, your cyborg life.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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