Quality or Quantified?

I think that’s what the Quantified Self is, this notion of examining yourself and enabling data about yourself to this super-high degree. For a lot of behavior change, it comes down to either a motivational problem or an information problem. If you are really motivated to change something about yourself, but you just don’t know what to do, then mere information is very valuable. Just doing the Quantified Self ends up causing a behavior change.

The problem is that there are certain issues that even if you know what the right thing is, you don’t do it. Diet is a great example. Almost everyone knows what it means to eat right, and yet the knowing is not enabling the doing. That’s the motivation problem. – Fred Trotter (from an interview over at O’Reilly Radar)

The Quantified Self is the same sort of self-management stuff that the Nike+ or Streaks app, or the aggregation of data through @ mentions on twitter (Your FlowingData) provide. Unfortunately, none of these programming solutions really address what these values mean in some sort of tangible way. Sure, you can correlate your data with averages (that you also have to track down and massage), but it doesn’t tell you necessarily what it means. If I walk 2300 steps today, is that good? What does that mean for a man 20 pounds overweight and 5’10”? Having software deduct money from you isn’t really a good solution to enforce behavioural change, there’s too many simple ways to prevent a computer from doing this – simplest of which would be disassociating the software from the currency. Or putting software in between the two to halt any sort of transaction. It’s easy to think of fairly simple ways to avoid paying the price of change, but wouldn’t it be better if perhaps these programs addressed some of reasons for change, and reinforcing those needs rather than punishing. It seems like these behaviour modification apps are stuck in the pavlovian method of reinforcement. Maybe they can get through this phase relatively quickly and start building software that helps people get motivated to change (if they need to).

Political Aspects of Community

In the same interview that Howard Rheingold did, that I wrote about in my last post, he also touched on some ideas of the political ramifications of online communities. They aren’t new ideas, in fact they’re old ideas. It’s what attracted me to the Internet, and the World Wide Web  in the first place. The idea of communication, finding like minds and working together (collaboration). The interesting part to me is collaboration – with collaboration you have an element of taking responsibility and control of what you’re working on. That level of personal responsibility has always been something that interested me since I see it as a keystone of civilization. As things move progressively more fractional, and large governments continue to become more and more unable to operate efficiently, we’ll see a return to local government and more personal responsibility for what we do.

Which is exactly like what we have online – what I say and publish online I will stand behind. The fact that most people who are online stand behind what they say is encouraging for a future where we have more individual responsibility. The follies that celebrities encounter online hopefully will subside as celebrities learn how to manager their identity and communities form around them to attempt to mitigate some of the damage done.

Maybe too the online community will lead us to smaller nation-states which are manageable and where people feel that their vote matters. Maybe, just maybe that means we won’t blow each other up so often as we start to collaborate with others across the world. Maybe that might grow some  empathy for tragedies that occur elsewhere, and incur rage at repression in other places (and at home).