Friday, May 7, 2010

Tracking Yourself

Of course I have to mention the Times Magazine's cover story on self-trackers. I am very much into the idea of tracking everything, as I love the idea of quantifiable data and how I can use it to improve my life. The biggest downside is the vast amount of time it takes to do this, and it quickly becomes, like anything else, another chore. And there are so many already!

I was surprised they didn't mention Feltron, a guy who's tracked his music, the restaurants he visits, the cities he flies to, and a number of other things over the past several years. I blogged about this before, and I am again in awe of this idea. Self-absorbed? Maybe. I've taken a different approach to self-absorption and narcissism in this age--it's about how you relate to people. If all you talk about is yourself, then yes, you are self-absorbed and boring. But this idea, of tracking yourself in order to change your life, to conduct experiments? Awesome.

But Jonah Lehrer (who looks like an older Michael Cera here) takes issue with this:
One of the main problems facing self-experimenters is the powerful role of expectations in shaping performance. If we think something is going to work, then it probably will work, at least for a little while.

Studies like this demonstrate the necessity of blind controls. The brain is a gullible machine, which is why the very act of believing that tryptophan might work makes it much more likely to have an effect, at least at first. ... That's why I'm a teeny bit suspicious of clear-cut results that come from tested hypotheses, especially when the results contradict the scientific literature. The very act of speculating about a causal relationship - say, for instance, the link between a pill and the ability to concentrate - warps the data, biasing our mind in a million little ways.

His discussion on wine and beer is quite interesting--and I do buy the idea that mood and other factors do shape our opinions and reactions. A bad day may make us eat more or work harder--or just be lazier, if we stopped giving a shit.

I love the tools, the apps, that make it easier to track things. I think it could help me with productivity and other time/organization issues. I somehow imagined the afterlife as being a repository of facts; you could look up anything related to you and your life, and it would be there. How much time, over the course of your life, you spent in the bathroom. Or on the internet. Or talking with a specific person. Or anything. How scary and awesome that would be.

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