As a child of the ’80s I grew up with movies like the Black Hole and Star Wars. When I dreamt of future technology, household droids always appeared more likely to me than Darth Vader jumpsuits. Perhaps this was natural considering that the only wearable tech I owned growing up was a walkman and digital watch. At one point my brother bought a baseball cap with blinking lights, but that was as tech savvy as it got.
With results in hand we now know that we are not surrounded by droids and neither have we become cyborgs. While engineers have made significant advancements towards enhancing our bodies with technological equipment, such as increased strength and vision, these landmarks have not become mass products. Instead wearable tech that enables us to track our bodies will have a shot at becoming majorly popularized first.
Commercial ambitions within the quantified self movement
Do you think of Nike as simply sports attire? Think again! Nike is using technology, data and services to create entirely new products, such as the Nike+ fuel band that allows you to track your activity level. Nike was ranked as the most innovative company in 2012 by Fast Company, and some people have begun to speculate if Nike has become a technology company. Nike themselves are simply trying to merge the digital with real life, through their concept “digital sports”. Soon the synthesis of digital services in everyday activities will be taken for granted by lots of companies and products, and the discussion will become obsolete.
What is more interesting is the timing, considering a growing movement called the quantified self. Lots of people are exhibiting behaviors characterized by this movement, but far less are familiar with the term itself. People within the quantified self movement track information about themselves, such as workout, diet or mood, with the aid of tech equipment. This behavior is also known as life-logging, and the data collected is used for analysis and self improvement.
Nike is tapping into life-logging behavior, with the addition of gamification, but they are not alone. There are also a number of life-logging apps, such as the In Flow app that helps you track your emotional pattern. Some argue that Google Glass, computing worn as glasses, will become the premiere life-logging platform of the future. According to recent rumors Microsoft will be launching a pair of rival glasses in 2014. Will life-logging go main stream? We don’t know that yet, but it is apparent that a lot of big players are entering a growing and potentially lucrative market.
Life-logging as a way to become and connect
Jerry Silfwer was the first person that introduced me to the concept of life-logging through his blog. He made a lot of interesting points about what life-logging could mean for the future. This in turn made me think about what life-logging could come to mean for the way we view our bodies and selves.
Note the word ‘could’. Life-logging can mean a lot of things for a lot of people in a lot of different contexts. What you can be sure about is that whatever it means, it is going to change. It is also going to help people change, beyond helping them do stuff, such as acting can as a bridge for expression and belonging. While there are lots of articles focusing on the functionality of life-logging, I will be exploring it’s potential for self construction.
Life-logging as DIY
Today the household instruments we use to track our bodies are quite few. Many of us own thermometers and scales. However if we desire a deeper analysis we visit experts, like doctors, coaches and dietitians. If worst comes to worst we send our body tissue to labs. While most of us will never become experts in biology or psychology we could use life-logging tools to enter areas typical reserved for experts. This could help us to a higher extant diagnose and treat ourselves.
The quantified self, and life-logging, ties in with two cultural currents, namely the challenging of authority and the DIY (do-it-yourself) movement. While life-logging could be used as a way to connect with like-minded people and belong, that doesn’t really express anything unique. It’s rather it’s potency to further individualism and personal autonomy which stands out.
Life-logging as a philosophical and spiritual device
While life-logging on one hand could enable it’s practitioners to become rational DIY scientists, I have a sense that it also could fulfill a spiritual or religious meaning. With that being said, I don’t think life-loggers in general would feel comfortable with such an assertion. I believe that the life-logging process could produce similar meaning as religious practice, without any other obvious superficial similarities.
Life-logging could be used to emphasize oneself as the center and principal interpreter of the universe, as well as accentuate a movement inwards rather than outwards. While these typically tie in with philosophical questions, they also touch upon ideas within several religious movements. The quantified self could also raise questions about the possibility to attain immortality through digital storage as discussed within transhumanism.
Life-logging as a game-changer for the way we view ourselves
While many scientists view the body as an advanced machine, I believe that people in general have a more organic and mystical approach to their bodies. With life-logging this can change as people get more instruments to understand their bodies. The body can be seen as a creator, emitter and storage space for loads of data. While machines and hard drives are obvious analogies, a more powerful image might be computer networks, especially when services, that track our bodies and behaviors, connect and talk with each other. What if your body-network informed you about how your sleep is being affected by your exercise, travel and work?
If we to a larger degree adapt a more mechanical approach to our bodies, and grow accustomed to life-logging it’s not a far stretch to accept the possibilities of also storing new data in our DNA. Did you know that 4 grams of DNA can theoretically hold 1.82 trillion gigabytes, namely all the data the world produces in a year?
Life-logging as a way to resist commercial exploitation
Another interesting term related to life-logging is self-hacking. While the idea of hacking oneself brings up lots of interesting connotations, it’s proponents emphasize a new type of data literacy. Life-hackers stress the point of taking control of one’s own data, rather than leaving it in the hands of gigantic corporations. Becoming a self-hacker can be used as a tool to position oneself against commercial exploitation of personal data.
Life-logging in summary
Life-logging has a huge potential to alter the way we view our bodies and selves. Beyond its obvious functions life-logging can be used to challenge authorities and gain more self control. The authorities in question could be corporations controlling data, or experts such as personal trainers or dietitians. More self control could involve personal diagnose and self treatment. Life-logging also raises many interesting ethical, philosophical and religious questions. In the long run life-logging could lead to us viewing our bodies as networks, as well as accepting the possibility of using our DNA as data storage.
As part of my personal journey towards trying to understand the implications of life-logging I contacted two professors, namely Grant McCracken and Robert Kozinets. They opened up some doors, which I plan to explore in a follow-up blog post.
Do you want to affirm or challenge these reflections? What speaks for and against?