The Phenomenon of Self-Tracking

Two days ago I think it was, I was listening to “Talk of the Nation” on NPR as I was driving home from school and heard a snippet of a conversation on the growing popularity of self-tracking or self-monitoring, which, for those of you who don’t know, involves using smart phones and other electronic devices to gather data on our activities, physiological states, and habits.  Self-tracking is mostly used as a tool to modify behavior for the better.  I had heard of self-tracking before, but when I heard it spoken of on the radio, it brought to mind the self-tracking nature of my own Freehoodship project/adventure.  Mine, however, does not seek to quantify behaviors as a means to modify them, but instead to deepen experience and my capacity for self-reflection and to help me, hopefully, become a better human being.  To illustrate the difference as I see it, a self-tracking mission would be to down-load an app that tells you whether you’re getting enough sleep so that you can get enough sleep.  A Freehoodship mission would be to investigate the feeling of being tired and why it is no longer a clear enough signal that one ought to get more sleep; not only that, but a Freehoodship mission would involve the development of that feeling for tiredness so that the app becomes unnecessary.  It seems to me that these devices do less to improve self-knowledge and more to alienate ourselves from ourselves, which is not to say that these devices can’t be useful in certain situations, though I can’t think of any right now.  But anyone who has spent even a little time thinking about the self knows that we are not going to quantify our way to self-knowledge or to health, psychologically or physiologically speaking.

One Mission Note

  1. Jenell Heimbach

    I remember how soulless virtual reality was to people in the early 90s! And yet, within just a couple decades the internet and smartphones have been so readily assimilated into our culture. I read an article today contrasting Google searches with the idea of actively being a searcher. This article and your thoughts gave me pause. We love novelty. And, while novelty isn’t inherently bad, I wonder where our fetishizing of novelty and technology will take us. I wonder if it will lead to the loss of the long view, the space necessary for inquiry.

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