I think Gary Wolf is a good sounding name and listening to him speak in 2010 about the ‘quantified’ self ( which we will get back to shortly) I am sure most people would find him to be personable, reasonably attractive and would probably trust what he was saying was based in truth. Basically he is delivering a sermon about data collection but he puts forward his argument with a well constructed approach. ‘We know that numbers are useful to us when we advertise, govern, search; I’m going to talk about how they are useful when we reflect, learn, remember and want to improve’. He has a charismatic delivery and I’m certain that Mr Wolf had the attention of almost everyone in the audience. The next segment led into a whole bunch of data that was apparently being avidly recorded by people about all kinds of stuff including eating habits, exercise regimes, moods, spending and even diaper tracking! At this point I was thinking ‘please someone help those people get a life’. Mr Wolf put all this down to ‘the uptake diffusion of mobile devices, the exponential improvement of data storage and data processing’ and last but not least ‘the remarkable improvement in human biometric sensors’. We are getting to the important part, so please try to stay alert.
The crucial hardware in these biometric sensors is a tiny electromechanical device called an accelerometer that in its basic state measures acceleration forces.’ So what? Engineers have worked out how to make ‘really useful products‘ using accelerometers and computer programers have written really useful programs that can extract ‘really useful’ data which can be used for really useful ‘stuff’. You should be feeling a little concerned at this point as accelerometers are what we find in all these wonderful self monitoring devices that Mr Buffered 3D Accelerometer Weight 1.3gWolf is so excited about. All these new tools are ‘changing a sense of ourselves in the world’. which we all know is true but Mr Wolf goes on to say that we should be using these tools ‘as mirrors for self- improvement, self-discovery, self-awareness, self-improvement, self-knowledge and to cut a long line of selfs short he finishes by saying ‘the self is our operations centre, our consciousness, our moral compass. So if we want to act more effectively in the world, we have to get to know ourselves better.’
So, by getting myself all wired up and having minute by minute updates on blood pressure, heart-rate, oxygen uptake and degree of armpit odour, am I going to be moving closer to my inner-self? That is of course if my inner-self can be divided up into a pie chart or mapped out on a graph. In Mr Wolf’s wonderful world of micro data collecting devices is there a place for intuition, instinct or gut feelings? Perhaps if intuition could be developed as a human biometric system, it may be more promising or should I say profitable. What I am sure of, is that there will be less self-knowledge going in than information going out in the form of data collection.
And furthermore, what about the ‘techs’ that create all of these things (which reminds me of the ‘internet of things’ but that’s another chapter) – all nestled down in their upwardly mobile lifestyles in Silicon Valley, are they getting better acquainted with their self bits and pieces? Their lives are tied up with showing they have wealth, risk-taking and at what level they are at on the preferred social network of the moment. The experts that are making these self measuring tools, encouraging the user to trust the app rather than the ‘gut’, value risk-taking and entrepreneurship which rely heavily on using one’s intuition and instinct (Marwick, 2013). These mini monitoring and reporting systems are possibly more self-limiting rather than aiding self-expansion. My best advice in this current climate, if someone approaches you with a life-changing app that plugs directly in to the back of your neck , just get the hell out of there!
A beginner’s guide to accelerometers. 2016. A beginner’s guide to accelerometers. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dimensionengineering.com/info/accelerometers. [Accessed 17 April 2016].
Marwick, A E, 2013. ‘Leaders and Followers: Status in the Tech Scene’ in Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age. 1st ed. UK: Yale University Press, 2013.
TED@Cannes. (2010). The Quantified Self. [Online Video]. 5 May 2010. Available from: http://www.ted.com/talks/gary_wolf_the_quantified_self?language=en&utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tedspread. [Accessed: 14 April 2016].