Every morning on the family smartphone App I get a welcome to the day text message, a blessing and a quick fire Q and A in capital letters and emoticons checking on my vital signs: temperature, blood pressure, blood sugars, platelets, respiration rate, ECG pattern, blood oxygen saturation, pulse and bowel movements.
Later in the day I may get a follow up to check on my progress and the pedometer reading. Help! I’ve only been able to respond that I have a pulse, am breathing, but I feel a bit hot and bothered now because I haven’t been counting foot falls and I must confess to not having a pedometer on my person or even owning one.
And I simply refuse to confirm or deny whether I’ve had a movement. Some things should stay private and I am very Presbyterian in sharing information, particularly of the personal kind.
These questions are not from my doctor and I have no life and death crisis that I am aware of. They come from my sister-in-law, a real estate agent and former telecommunications engineer, who is genuinely concerned and interested in her own and her family’s physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, and likes to keep track of all of it using the dazzling array of tools available.
Welcome to the age of the body hackers, body trackers, life loggers, auto-analysers, the self-quantifiers who self-measure, monitor, data mine and put under sousveillance (get it: surveillance) every aspect of their daily life.
They’re part of the Quantified Self movement. You might recognise them.
They are the people who are not taking selfies and texting their lunch date across the table to tell them that the food in front of them looks good enough to eat only after a photo of the plate has been sent to thousands of FB and Instagram followers whose day will be so much richer for this missive.
They are the people who have an array of smartphone Apps at hand at all times to tell them if the lunch dish’s caloric and nutritional contents are in line with the daily target.
They’re looking at their wristwatch gizmo to check that they are breathing and ingesting the right amount of oxygen.
Their new wireless wearable sports shirt is beeping to warn them that they may be getting overly aroused, or perhaps just sweating, and that they’d better move indoors as the car that backfired down the street has altered the optimum temperature and air quality.
The wave of new technologies make it just so easy to be narcissistic and self-obsessed at the moment, particularly if you are always fully charged, carry long life batteries and avoid power failures.
We’ve created a generation obsessed with themselves, with short attention spans, terrible spelling and sentence construction, overdosed on reality TV and gladiatorial cooking and home renovation shows (and thinking that Top Gear, Embarrassing Bodies and One Born Every Minute is knowledge).
This is a generation that craves instant gratification, affirmation and has an unquenchable need for admiration. Thanks Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, WhatsApp, YouTube and whatever.
We use them, we love them and we hate them for feeding our banal selves.
Now of course, the self quantifiers go beyond the pale to really get to know themselves, inside and out, using the sort of data software once exclusive to research labs, the NASA space probe, sports franchises, state spying and intelligence gathering agencies, Inspector Gadget and enormous global companies with enormous R and D budgets.
But what do they do with all this information they gather about themselves?
There are group meetings where self-quantifiers can go to share all this personal data they collect about themselves over a glass of wine or a soya decaf skinny latte. Prufrock Café is probably a perfect venue for get-togethers and it certainly would not be amiss to measure out attendees’ lives in coffee spoons!
New members are always welcome and you just need to check Dr Google to find a chapter near you.
Here’s an example of topics for information sharing at a group meet. Let’s kick off with self experimentation, behaviour monitoring, life logging, life caching and life streaming which provide a scintillating introduction for novices and new members.
Then we can move on to location tracking – we all have personal and wearable GPS sensors – and get into the physical stuff with digitising body info and biometric data. You’ll need to have an app or device with a good colourful spreadsheet that can provide as much detail as possible, data correlations, data analytics and historical data etc. for easy sharing. The final stage is sharing with the group your own psychological self-assessments, a team talk on medical self-diagnostics and a show and tell of your personal genome sequencing.
It seems to me to be rather pointless to sit down to share what is basically gratuitous information about yourself, gathered from novelty equipment and gadgets you’ve bought on line, with other self-quantifiers since they too are self-interested, have bought their own novelty equipment and gadgets on line and ergo are not really interested in you.
Do they talk to themselves? Or is there some hope that the endless bounds of apparently useless information collected every day may be put to a greater good and make us all better people?
I can only say for myself that there’s a very real chance that we’re losing perspective and being diverted by the ability to capture for all eternity moments in a life that are absolutely of no consequence and add nothing to the sum total of human knowledge.
If you are so busy taking pictures of your life and measuring, monitoring, analysing, logging and sharing every minuscule detail of your existence, behaving more like a pre-programmed robot than a living human being, how do you actually create genuine, lifelong experiences, intimacies, passions, memories, relationships that matter – and make eye contact? Your life will count for nothing.
In the end, it’s not going to matter how many breaths you take, but how many moments can take your breath away.