Quantified Self – control gain or control loss?
When we found out about the massive data collection of America’s NSA we were more than alarmed. Truth is, today more and more people collect and share very personal data – voluntarily and frequently. The trend of so-called “Self Tracking” has become popular in the USA and is increasingly spilling over to Europe.
Imagine Rick, a hobby self tracker. Wearing the wrist band has become normal for him. His day starts when his heart rate indicates a light sleep phase, the perfect time to easily wake up. He heads to the bathroom; keeping track of the amount of water and warm water in particular that he used. His scale measures his weight and body fat, directly connecting to the respective application on his smartphone that creates clearly arranged diagrams for him. When ready for breakfast he checks his last night’s sleep – apparently, he did not sleep very well. His first meal of the day begins his exact food tracking of every day. In order to decrease his relative body fat, he is on a special diet at the moment. When leaving the house, Rick starts counting his steps. 10,000 steps are quite a goal, so he decides to skip the first tram station and to walk instead. When reaching university he takes the stairs instead of the elevator – a behaviour that he’s become very used to. After class in the library he uses a special software to track his own productivity and the pages that he has read in a specific amount of time. This way, he knows exactly when it is okay for him to go home and head for a run. Without Runtastic, of course, he wouldn’t have an idea of the progress he is making. At the end of the day he looks at his diagrams satisfied, knowing that he achieved his goals for the day. He is ready for a hopefully better sleep this night.
This short story tells features of today’s reality that almost everyone has gotten in touch with by now. The trend of quanitfying yourself has become more and more common – the launch of the Apple Watch is just another indicator.
- Behaviours that were very unconscious in the past can be made explicit
- We can gain more control over our time, body and health
- It is easier than ever to live a healthy, fit lifestyle
- It is cheaper than ever to buy the necessary gear
- Very often, self tracking involves some degree of gamification, it’s fun
- The link of everyday life and technology is fascinating
- We lose control over our very personal data
- We often do not know which application collects which data and what is done with it
- There might be severe security issues with regards to how your data is stored
- We don’t know who does and will have access to your data
- Increased risk of identity theft
- Tracking ourselves can cause addictive behaviour, our realistic perception of our own bodies etc. might get lost
- Humans are reduced to numbers
Apart from the listed con’s, risks become very concrete when thinking about who could or might have access to our very personal data in the future. Do you want your health insurance to know you don’t work out enough to maintain a good health status? Do you want your employer to know that you were not really sick the last time you were on sick leave? Do you want a potential burglar to know where you are – and where you are not?
Thinking about this trend of tracking and quantifying everything about oneself leads to many questions. Do the benefits of these technologies outweigh the costs? Do we not give away the last bit of privacy that we had left?