Can self-tracking drive you crazy?

Information is power! 

You can’t control what you can’t measure!

Data = beautiful!

Such are the battle cries of the empowered self-tracker.

Far behind, bringing up the rear of the limping battalion in our technology-as-saviour ranks are many Real Live Patients and their physicians daring to pose a question that I like to ask of the devotees of the Quantified Self movement:

“But what are you actually going to DO with all your data once you have collected it all?”    Continue reading

Digital temptations: “Quantifying, tracking or gamifying everything”

There’s a pervasive haze of “If you build it, they will come!” in tech circles these days. Technology, as Evgeny Morozov proposes, can be a force for improving life – but only if we keep “solutionismin check.

The author of To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism describes the ideology of solutionism as being essential to helping Silicon Valley maintain its image. For example:  Continue reading

When does mindfulness become mind-numbing?

Dr. James Beckerman  is a cardiologist with the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute in Portland, Oregon.

And he’s also a jock. He serves as the Vice-Chair of the Oregon Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, as well as the team cardiologist for the Portland Timbers major league soccer team.

In a recent article, he tells the sad story of the time the running watch that tracked his regular runs stopped connecting to his computer.  Continue reading

Public humiliation as self-tracking motivation

I use a low-tech/high-sparkle method for motivating myself to exercise every day. It’s a small calendar hanging inside the bathroom cabinet door on which I post shiny kids’ stickers (the sparklier, the better) on each date that has included at least one hour of exercise.

I find that this self-tracking method is highly effective, particularly since I discovered individual little stickers with peel-off backings, not just the easy-peasey kind you lift off from a whole sheet of stickers. In the direct mail marketing business, my stickers would be called involvement devices (like tokens, peel-offs, stamps and tear-offs) that require a time commitment from potential customers. Marketers know that the more time we spend peeling, tearing or inserting these involvement devices, the more likely we’ll actually be to follow through to subscribe to their magazines or enter their sweepstakes contests.

But I digress. I love seeing an entire calendar page crammed with those shiny sparkles! Rewarding myself with a little sticker for my efforts is positive reinforcement.

Consider, however, these three self-tracking technology helpers that are designed to alter your behaviour not through rewarding you for your efforts, but through shame, humiliation and embarrassment when you screw up: Continue reading

Does knowing change behaving?

“Skate to where the puck is going.”  That’s a common expression here in Canada, largely attributed to hockey great Wayne Gretsky.  It basically says if you want to accomplish something, go directly to where it will really count. Or, as I like to translate that advice for the benefit of all you Silicon Valley start-ups working away on developing yet another new self-tracking health app: “For Pete’s sake, go find some Real Live Patients to talk (and listen) to first before you decide where you’re going!”

And as one sage pondered on Twitter:

“Why do we think self-tracking devices will work when mirrors and bathroom scales have so far failed?”

Speaking of Real Live Patients, here’s one who contacted me in response to a recent blog post I wrote about health apps for smartphones: Continue reading