Blog 17: A life tracked and measured

Blog 17: A life tracked and measured

This is the second official blog entry for this class! I am excited to close the course with concluding thoughts about the internet, technology, and their rhetorical impact on various aspects of our society. This conversation will be held on our final class session on May 4.

In Chapters 3 and 4, Neff and Nafus provide us with plenty of strategies to handle wearable technologies such as trackers and artificial intelligence/task managers. What I’ve found most interesting between these pages is the common purposes of tracking the authors have identified. I dedicate this space to review them.

1. Monitoring and evaluating. I can see how the immediate use of self-tracking devices are for keeping count of our activity and events. The evaluative part of this purpose is one that most older technologies (like pen-and-paper logs) couldn’t automate. The use of wearable computers for monitoring and evaluating data collected helps minimize effort needed to perform both of those tasks.

2. Eliciting sensations. This is one that I thought was intriguing but not surprising. The affective/emotional part of wearable computing has been a growing focus of the next phase of computing (as seen on the Hype Cycle kept by UMN IT). The integration of feelings into computing seems to be the logical next-step to human-centered technological innovation. However, I am curious how this changes our relationships with machines that we use and interact with constantly.

3. Aesthetic curiosity. This is a romanticized idea, I believe. The notion that raw information is beautiful (cue A Beautiful Mind), and can be “painted” with big data. I recall several desktop apps that were created to track user activity and produce a visualized result of that tracking. An example is the IOGraphica (check it out, it’s free).

4. Debugging a problem. I guess the most practical use of constant tracking, besides monitoring and evaluating activity, is to identify sources of problem and ways to resolve them. While it doesn’t always guarantee a solution, self-tracking tends to lead users to insights about themselves that they don’t usually see by self-report (because of bias).

5. Cultivating a habit. The last purpose of self-tracking, according to Neff and Nafus, is to create a habit of monitoring. This operates on an underlying assumption that monitoring is good and should be encouraged. I can see why scientist and academic lightbulbs getting lit here, but I would like to be cautious about the implications of such assumption. Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” offers a useful entry to this discussion. I’d recommend reading it for inspirations.

Questions for discussion:

  • What do we expect our devices to do given our goals (above) and worries about surveillance and privacy?
  • How might culture be factored into the purposes above?

Neff, G. & Nafus, D. (2016). Self-Tracking. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [Chapters 3 & 4]


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