99 – the quantified self

OK, it’s mildly hilarious that someone who actually numbers her blog posts finds the “Quantified Self” movement just a teensy bit disturbing.

I think it’s genuinely just one more instance of the human race’s determination that if something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. To the point of insanity.QUANTIFIED-SELF-Report-Cover-Trend-Reporting-680x382

If you’re not up on the whole thing–and I’m just beginning to hear about it–it’s about using technology to track everything in your daily life. You can read more about it here.

I do track a lot of things–I have to track my work hours, it’s part of the agreement I made when working from home. I fully get that, and especially with someone like me who is intermittently available because I’m working part time.

I also track my fitness efforts. I had to ramp back from my personal best of a five-mile run to about three and a half miles because the longer distance was tearing my knees to pieces. (And, by the way, made Corey drive the route with me a couple of times so I could figure out if those electric poles actually were one-tenth of a mile apart.)

At five miles, my knees had to have three days rest for me to be able to run again, and that’s not effective. Plus it hurts. But at three and a half, I can run every other day. Limiting the distance meant (for me, because I’m a goober) that in order to get better, I have to run a little faster and take fewer strides each day–so I had to have a pedometer to measure that.

So I bought one. And, of course, it also measures how long I’m moving, and how far, and I wear it all day long so I can see if I make 10,000 steps all told. And 10,000, by the way, was pulled out of the air in response to the naming of a Japanese pedometer in the 1960s as “manpo-kei” or 10,000-step meter. Seriously. No scientific basis whatsoever. The health scientists basically just say that you should try to increase your walking/exercise–and they vary from one to the next on what “increase” means.

watchBut the quantified self thing takes all that way, way further. Of course. Because again, we’re talking about humans. And, as always in the last few years, there’s an app for that. You can now track your sleep, your calorie intake, calories burned, your heart rate, your blood pressure, and the list goes on.  Basically, if it can be sensed, mechanically or otherwise, it can be tracked. And one of the main feature sets on the Apple Watch coming in 2015 is… quantifying your self.

There’s also, and again, of course, the “Quantified Baby.” Poor little bugger will probably never get to actually play with mud pies, one of the joys of my childhood. *sigh* I’m going to leave that alone.

There is, like any other “taking it to the extremes” idea, an underlying element that is valid about the whole thing, and one that I can definitely cop to–observation affects the observed. The notion comes out of both physics and the softer sciences.  I know that, when I write down what I eat, it brings the amount and types of food that I eat to the fore instead of it being an unconscious process. When I do that, I eat less and I eat better than my norm.  But the backlash, of course, is that, when I eat something I don’t want to admit to, I just don’t write it down. Which means it has no calories, right? Right.

There’s a middle ground, and I do try to stay there. For instance, I don’t write down my distance, steps, or anything else from the pedometer. I just try to remember from the day before what my time and stride numbers were, and then all I have to try to do is be better than yesterday.  Haven’t figured a similar wrench to use to make the calorie absorption thing work, but I’m thinking about it.

I should make an app for it. Oh, that’s right, there are already a thousand of them out there.

Numerically numb,


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