Philosophy + Tech: What wearables are really telling you

philosophy and techI have a personal passion for self-knowledge. Ever since I was little I’ve been very reflective. And to this day I can’t shake the fascination. A rather dismal New York Times article, suggests the exploration of self-knowledge is an underrepresented branch of philosophy that has “become an issue for psychologists and novelists rather than academic philosophers.”

Aside from the field of philosophy, an interest in self-knowledge might actually be quite prevalent considering it’s modern day synonyms like emotional intelligence (thanks Harvard Business Review) or Wired’s recent term, Awarables. In this generation of do-it-yourselfers, many enjoy Fitbit’s ability to replace a personal trainer or nutritionist. Wired even explains “those who get obsessed with tracking start wrestling with bigger questions: How well do I know myself? Who do I want to be?” Which I would volley back with: If wearables can be our trainer can they also be our therapist or life coach?

I’m cautious to give personal trackers such weighted credit when assessing my own self-awareness, but the article claims that warbles aren’t telling us what to do, just helping us form new habits.

While setting an intention isn’t the same as thing as paying attention, setting a goal, an intention, does require greater attention to all contributing factors. As humans, we’re the one’s setting intentions, but technology can focuses our attentiveness toward that goal. For instance, the article explains that wearables allow us to, say, be healthier by alerting us to daily calorie counts or steps taken.

More interesting, the article noted a study explaining that “50% of people who use wearables stop after 6 months, and the industry sees this as a failure” but in “some ethnographic interviews, people said that they learn what 10,000 steps feels like and simply don’t need the device anymore,” deeming this evidence as “ a success story”.

It seems like a plausibly optimistic assumption: We aren’t becoming more dependent on technology. We’re actually using technology to teach us how to be more self-aware, in this case, by learning how we feel after a certain interval of exercise.

Another journalist and author of “Keeping Track: Personal Informatics, Self-Regulation and the Data-Driven Life,” claims wearables can, in fact, be exceedingly prescriptive. Instead of offering a dashboard of data, some devices are simply advising wears to do something from an aggregation of data points and then assuming such assessments are in the wearers best interest. The human is cut out of the analysis process. Should we be so trusting of technology? In this instance, wearables are said to encourage action not just attention.

I suppose it depends on the individual and the particular device, but let’s hope wearables keep us aware of our own questions rather than acting to the beat of a device’s drum.

Image from:Crowd Sourcing

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