Musing #6 The “Quantified” Life

Recently, there have been news reports about Google’s new privacy policies, Google’s street view project intercepting Wi-Fi content, Facebook’s general “thank you, that’s mine” approach to what you do and where you go on the internet and then today, I saw this article on “The Quantified Life“. This is also known as “lifeblogging”.

I don’t get it. 

Why would anyone want to record everything they do, said, to whom they said it, or where they went? What need does this satisfy?

Some of the comments to this article are … at best, naive. One commenter said this would really help us to “know ourselves” better. Really?? No. I don’t think so.

You come to know yourself by taking the time to focus the reflective part of the mind on the self as you evaluate experiences you have had and the associated emotions they are wrapped in. Introspection does not need a realtime recording of all events in the day you experienced. If it did, you would never complete a reflection as it would take just as long to reflect as it did to experience in the first place. [We do need some time to sleep 😉 ]

Another comment from a “future economist” stated he was “blown away” by what we can learn “from the data”. Really? I don’t think economics suffers from a lack of data, it suffers from a lack of understanding about how humans make decisions. [IMHO, this is due to separating our emotional motivations out of the economic algorithms]. Since lifeblogging of all events in your day does not convey the emotional state of you or other people involved (and thank goodness for that), it adds little useful learning to economics as best I can tell.

And finally, this article is more interesting due to what it does not say. It does not talk about the destructive power of this information. If it’s digitally recorded assume it can be used by anyone for any reason. If it’s centrally stored, it is very easy for any government entity to get access. Finally, why would you ever provide this much personal information about your going and coming to any commercial enterprise? Do you think their motivations are more noble than the government?  Really? Truly?

I’m left with several questions:
– Is the interest in lifeblogging a symptom of an inability to be comfortable in your annonimity?
– Does it reflect a deep longing to have your existence acknowledged despite your ability to text and tweet at will?
– Are people uncomfortable with quietly engaging in deep introspection to make sense of their emotions, decisions and interactions with other people?

To quote Alice in “Alice in Wonderland”:
“Curiouser and curiouser”. 

And even more to the point:
I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

Indeed, that is the great puzzle, but I doubt a quantified life will help you put the pieces together.


2 thoughts on “Musing #6 The “Quantified” Life

  1. This struck me pretty strongly.

    I once took a group of former friends to Gatlinburg, TN. I hate traffic and tourist traps, but they were the type of folks who went head over heels for that stuff.

    We finally made it to town. I said, “Let’s drive through and see what y’all want to do, and we’ll come back through and stop in a parking lot near there and start our day!” “Okay!” they said. Someone took a picture of the “Welcome to Gatlinburg!” sign on their cell phones.

    Well….I make it to the other side of Gatlinburg in sidlence. What the heck? I say, “Guys, did you see anything you wanted to do?” “No, I didn’t really see anything to do here,” someone said. I looked back only to realize, they had all been so busy with sharing the picture on Facebook, tagging themselves in the picture, investigating other stuff on Facebook, etc, that not a one of them had looked beyond their phones for the whole trip through town. The whole drive for nothing. I gave them another chance. I turned around and went back through town in silence. Upon hearing NOTHING but phone keyboard clicks on the way back through, I pointed the car toward home. Nobody noticed until I was a good 45 minutes away and dead set on not turning around.

    I had the best vacation that year. I rode my SV650 out to a sparcely populated area in middle TN that evening and slept on a roll-up mattress pad on a night where I could see the Milky Way across the sky. Haven’t heard from those friends again after they got out of the car back at the house earlier that day, and I haven’t missed them. From what I hear, I’m the sick one for being “so disconnected from the world that I don’t post on Facebook.”

    • Dee,

      Although I wrote that little musing in 2012, I’ve seen little in the last six years that suggests self-absorption in trivial pursuits has receded, nor immoral use of our personal data by governments and “influence peddlers” has been outlawed.

      Your description of recoiling from the addiction of self-absorption of your friends when they had an opportunity to take in and participate in the present you offered them seems like well-balanced behavior on your part.

      I have often wondered what the impact would be on people’s behavior and attitudes about being alive if they were able to see the Milky Way every night instead of the monochrome dome of artificial light that obscures it. I suspect it would have a profoundly positive influence.

      Thanks for sharing your experience.


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