Far and away, one of the better/more useful things from this booklet thus far is the introduction of the five main “functions” of sensors and data.
Monitoring and evaluating:
As most people who have worn a fitbit can attest to, having a daily goal for a particular metric–steps walked, hours worked,etc–can be a very strong driving force to actually do that thing. I myself took pride in the amount of walking I would do in any given day when working outside, as well as completing a third hour-long sprint of homework that I set a timer for on my phone in a single day (not the most advanced strategy, but it worked). The problem, however, is that these numbers reset every day. And while that makes the most sense, logically–I can’t just sit on the couch most of the day and “make it up tomorrow,” it doesn’t feel good. And that, specifically, makes this section of the book one of my favorites so far. It acknowledges that humans want to feel accomplished, so when the QA tester made a chart with literal gold stars, it resonated with me. It would make me feel so much more involved with whatever project I was working on if I knew exactly how far I’ve come so far, not just how much I’ve done today (words typed this semester would be amazing to see, as I’m taking three writing courses, with another Journalism course taught by a former communications teacher).
As mentioned above, feeling as if one is doing well can help to accomplish fitness or productivity goals–but what about things that aren’t objective-oriented? The authors reference medical uses, such as ovulation and sugar levels, but also point to things outside the body, such as position relative to the magnetic poles. These are interesting to me, because it creates a “pseudo sensation” that we can tap into, one that wouldn’t exist without the extensive tracking technology we have. Imagine other “senses” we could track, given the right device? (I suspect altitude, amount of UV radiation absorbed, and levels of nutrients aside from sugar could all be “trained” in their own way).
Some what weaker section, though it does make some good points. Aside from the (mildly meaningless) statements on the artforms people are creating through tracking, questions are raised about what the companies behind tracking can do with this information, and how they can influence how people are “supposed to” interpret the results of these findings.
As a former chemical engineering student (thankfully, I’m no longer a masochist), I’m no stranger to figuring out what the hell went wrong with the thing I was trying to do. Whether it be equations, chemistry lab results, or computer code, something invariably goes horribly wrong, and it takes a special kind of thinking to fix it. In the case of tracking, being able to see the parts of life’s “equation” that may be messing with someone is an incredibly valuable feature of the technology. For example, I went to the doctor recently about my inability to eat certain foods, like beef and cheese. By simple process of elimination (and trying out other foods to verify, like fries and ice cream), it was discovered that I have a poorly functioning gall bladder, something no one has been able to figure out for the first 22 years of my life. Of course, now I won’t be able to enjoy a delicious cheeseburger without having intestinal pain, but such is life.
As someone who is routinely brought down by my own habits (like spending money on Thai food), it’s no surprise I look to change them, if possible. Neff and Nafus consider “habit hacking” as a form of overriding these existing gestures: for example, I’m usually hungry on my way home from work, therefore I want some delicious yellow curry. If I could stop that trigger from happening via eating a granola bar to ease my grumbling stomach until I get home, I could avoid having my room smell like a ball of spice.
How has tracking affected the way you do things? (do more of X, less of Y)
What would you track, if you could?