A friend of mine has lost over 100 pounds through diet and exercise. For many months, I saw her dedication to walking every day reflected in time and mileage reported to Facebook through a Nike application. I always made a point of clicking “like” when I saw one of these records so that I could encourage her good work. When I was at IBM, they had the option of keeping exercise records online as part of a health initiative for employees. You could do this singly or in teams, and their documents indicated that teams provided support that led to more dedication. Many friends who have participated in Weight Watchers have told me that they would not have achieved their goals without public weigh-in’s.
Public, online measures are also being used this summer by my writing group. Most evenings, there are “writing sprints,” with the starting gun going off at a set time and periodic reports on total words written. So, technology is supporting people in using communities to achieve personal goals.
How far might this go? Will we see people who have difficulty managing money coming together to share how well they are paying bills, avoiding spending, and building savings? Will blood pressure readings, blood sugar measurements, and other indicators of health be automatically uploaded to the Cloud, and perhaps shared among communities of interest who work together to stay fit?
Already, the social network measurements are beginning to become more important. Some people honestly believe that having more “friends” is important. Agents and publishers ask writers what their “Klout” scores are, and encourage them to raise the number of Twitter Followers they have. Numbers assigned for credit worthiness are now a standard part of any background check for a job. Participants in Alcoholics Anonymous earn tokens through online meetings.
Take this a step further, and consider the combination of online input (such as blogs) and big data. Might we all someday have measurements of unconventionality, social/antisocial scores, and, perhaps, even indicators of sanity–all based on the full analysis of every word we have written and every connection we have made on the Internet? Will there be a new profession of people who will help us to improve such numbers, just as there are people today committed to improving entrance exam scores and credit numbers?
Though I understand intellectually the value of biometrics, I always get uneasy when I think about fingerprints, retinal scans, etc. becoming part of a public or semi-public record. How soon will it be before our DNA is recorded–and scored? Our genes will tell a lot about us, and the scores associated with them will not be anything we can change.
As measurements proliferate, security and privacy will become a concern. This came home to me when my friend who had so much success in losing weight began to post not just her running data, but maps of the routes she took. These provide specific information that could be used by someone who could mug her or otherwise make her a victim. It’s the kind of information I would never deliberately share. And there it is, on the Web, everyday.