We are all being measured. The patterns, assessments, bits, and bites of our lives are worth something.
That’s no surprise. We may not be comfortable with it, but we know our financial data is processed. Our Web visits are timed, sorted, compared, and entered into algorithms. Email is analyzed for keywords, and, under the worst circumstances, hackers collect, evaluate, and sell our identity information in lively darknet marketplaces.
But our measurements can also have direct value to us. They shape our lives and can help us reach our goals. They can get personal, even intimate.
Some traditional measurements are so familiar, that we barely notice them.
Finances – Income, debts, credit ratings, and investments set boundaries for what we can own, what we can do, where we can live, and, to an extent, who we can associate with. Many people even assess their value as human beings with their wealth. But even those who don’t go that far rely on financial measurements for budgeting and planning.
Health – Weight drives diet (or concerns about diet and exercise). We count calories, and read labels to assess salt and fat intake. Many people of a certain age know their cholesterol numbers. Age inevitably suggests limits, though there is a wide variation. And, of course, if we become ill, we get scores for sugars, proteins, toxins, enzymes, antibodies, etc. We check out blood pressures and our temperatures.
Mental assessments – Though IQ tests are widely disparaged, they are still given and the numbers can have an impact. Many companies make hiring decisions based on scoring methods. Often, their use is explicit, but not always. For my last job, I could see an interviewer working through a personality test as I answered questions. He never disclosed this, but I was familiar with the format and able to recognize it even though my view was upside-down.
Behaviors – A golfer can tell you his or her handicap and a bowler knows the score of his best game. Computer gamers can tell you all the statistics for their characters and everything about their levels and skills. Most new cars have “tattle tale” capabilities nowadays, and some people, induced by insurance company discounts, install devices that report on their driving. GPS systems in our phones tell us where we were when we took a picture.
One of the subtlest measures dictating our lives is time. Seasons have always been marked by humans. From the beginning, we needed to be in synch with nature, whether for following herds or (with the invention of agriculture) for planting crops. The latter required cooperation, which led to more sophisticated communications that probably rewired our brains. But nothing has organized our years, days, hours, and minutes like clocks. Ever-smaller slices of time have been invested with an urgency that dictates behavior and creates secular sins like being tardy. (People are accused of being chronically late.) Sometimes the relationship with time is pathologized as dyschronometria or attention deficit disorder.
I thought of all the ways we are measured and measure ourselves when I heard of the new Apple watch. This device goes beyond keeping track of time. It includes the phases of the moon, a stopwatch, timers and alarms, of course, but it also has fitness measures (pulse, steps taken). Eventually, given the communications capabilities, our financial measures, credentials, authorizations, identification, current location, location history, medical history… – essentially every traditional measure and more – will be mediated by one device.
Is this a good thing? Will it put more measures that direct our lives into the hands of others, or will it give us new options that will allow us to be healthier, better informed, more connected to our communities, and better able to use our talents? Will it (and similar devices) increase our understanding and appreciation of ourselves and others or will it help us slip more efficiently into systems over which we have no real control? Will the sum of the measures be more than the parts? Will they be points in time or milestones that enable greater achievements over the years?
These questions deserve some thought. I’ll delve into them in my next post.
|Escrito por Peter Andrews|
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