In recent times, people seem to have become a bit preoccupied with collecting data from things. It’s everywhere – from wearable fitness devices to apps measuring how much time we spend using other apps, we are becoming a society driven by data. I can't help but be a bit sceptical of the value this behaviour can provide us. Does the effort we put in to collect this information equate to what we can get out of it?
The term “quantified self” was coined in 2007 by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly, meaning “self-knowledge through numbers” and it seems there’s no better way to describe the army of people jumping on the bandwagon of compulsively tracking and measuring almost every aspect of our daily life.
(The link above is full of fascinating information for anyone interested in exploring this idea further)
Thanks to the immense range and availability of smart, wearable devices, our species is well on its way to starting some kind of “Measurement Movement”. People can now scrutinise how they sleep, eat and exercise with ease, and the number of different variables is on the rise, with regular information on productivity and even mood being monitored and stored away for personal analysis.
Let me start by addressing the fact that I appreciate the need for data in our lives. It’s the modern day cornerstone for improving processes, allowing us to make informed predictions, learn from mistakes and track progress. It goes without saying that it’s transformed the healthcare industry, and certainly makes people’s jobs easier. However, there’s growing cause for concern that we’re becoming a culture that’s nuts about numbers.
A recent study by the Journal of Consumer Research has shown that we are actually less likely to enjoy an activity if it is being measured, demonstrating a decrease in motivation. So why do we still feel compelled to seek statistics and patterns in everything we do?
I think it is part of being human to want precision, control and standardisation, but the obsessive nature of it is becoming part of daily life for people all over the globe. Fitness wearables are a great example. A simple visit to any social media platform shows screenshots from a wealth of apps and devices, detailing such things as distance run or number of calories burnt – there’s no escape!
This is the age of personal quantification, where more and more of us are defining ourselves by a series of numbers and data sets. Are we measuring these things for ourselves, or as part of a public campaign to get recognition from others? Perhaps the fad won’t last, but maybe these findings are a cautionary tale for the future of the human race and their relationship with personal data.
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