The Unmeasured Self

I long resisted any sort of fitness trackers. I realized a long time ago that whenever I found out about the measure of a thing that just brought more anxiety. Particularly with health, it brings out all kinds of perfectionism. If the numbers aren't good then that just leads to a spiral of despair. White coat syndrome in the doctor's office now lives on my wrist, every minute of every day. A constant noticer of how I've failed.

I have similar reactions to surveillance technologies in general, as it is not just an intrusion, but one more form of expectation and monitoring to live up to. There is likely a more moderate path, where every notice, every ache or body pain, is not cause to think the sky is falling or is a mere fifteen minutes from falling.

I grow frustrated with the idea that we are our measures. This orthodoxy seems to have taken hold in the tech world in particular, where behavioral profiles are the capitalist endpoint of pretty much every tech product out there. Even those with noble aims take it for granted that we should be using more data (more data!) to predict outcomes, measure success or failure, and he like. So fucking exhausting.

As with so many things, I find myself wondering whether I am simply ten years out of time. As an early adopter of social media, I grew weary early on, for all the reasons that became commonplace and widely accepted in recent years. It felt like everyone finally caught up over the past few years enough to question whether all this newfangled social media shit had a lot of bad aspects. So too on this, I suspect in five years, if not sooner, we'll hear from all the “influencers” about how we should all really stop the tracking. Hell, they may be saying it now, but like I said, I stay off the social media. Then again, “influencing” is just one more way of worshiping metrics, so I doubt they'll quit measuring influence as easily as measuring seconds or something else.

Gadget measurements are marvels of marketing acumen. They take a single data source and origami it, slice, dice, and mutilate it into something else. Most knowledgeable users realize soon enough that the watch doesn't actually measure Vo2Max or “Stress”. It just computes some number, usually with a simple kind of arithmetic. So you get a “score” based on a crappy reading of heart-rate (dark complexion? hairy arms? check and check for making that heart rate sensor have a bit of trouble.) Is my “Fitness Age” really 20 one day and 70 another? Of course it is, because garbage data being fed through garbage algorithms results in little more than noise.

Perhaps someone, somewhere, will figure out a way to package and sell the unmeasured self. I suppose that means simply getting up each day, walking and exercising, eating well, and engaging with people and living the good life so to speak. There will, at any rate, surely be the studies that show that for some people, knowing the “data” is a contra-indication to a successful health outcome. That would explain why every time I see a doctor I feel an onslaught of sensations and problems that were not there just one week before. Unless of course doctors have learned the tricks of crooked mechanics and are subtly knocking the tailpipe out of alignment when you take your body in for a tuneup. Surely someone can get us data on this.

Oh. Wait. My wrist dictator tells me it's time to move and stop sitting.