Hacking Life: Systematized Living and Its Discontents by Joseph M. Reagle Jr

Hacking Life: Systematized Living and Its Discontents by Joseph M. Reagle Jr

Author:Joseph M. Reagle Jr. [Jr., Joseph M. Reagle]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Computers, American culture, self help, digital age, philosophy, health, productivity, Social Science, dating apps, data, Media Studies, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), life hacking
ISBN: 9780262038157
Google: bK2ODwAAQBAJ
Amazon: 0262038153
Publisher: MIT Press
Published: 2019-04-16T00:00:00+00:00

6    Hacking Health

In September 2008 a small group of enthusiasts met in the San Francisco home of Kevin Kelly, former executive editor of Wired and Cool Tools wrangler. Kelly had gathered about thirty people interested in health, enhancement, genetics, and life extension. The group included Gary Wolf, a colleague from Wired, and Kelly and Wolf had organized this get-together as the inaugural meeting of what they called the “Quantified Self” (QS). This was the movement’s first Show & Tell for those interested in increasing “self knowledge through numbers”—the QS motto.

Kelly believes that QS can help answer questions both prosaic and transcendent. Through it, we might learn how to better manage our email or live to be a hundred years old. It might even answer the central question of the digital age: “What is a human?… Is human nature fixed? Sacred? Infinitely expandable?” Kelly is characteristically optimistic and tools-focused.

We believe that the answers to these cosmic questions will be found in the personal. Real change will happen in individuals as they work through self-knowledge. Self-knowledge of one’s body, mind and spirit. Many seek this self-knowledge and we embrace all paths to it. However the particular untrodden path we have chosen to explore here is a rational one: Unless something can be measured, it cannot be improved. So we are on a quest to collect as many personal tools that will assist us in quantifiable measurement of ourselves. We welcome tools that help us see and understand bodies and minds so that we can figure out what humans are here for.1

The idea that self-knowledge and improvement need measurement is a variation on the idea that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This aphorism is often attributed to management consultant Peter Drucker, but his take was more nuanced. Although Drucker advocated measurement, he believed that a manager’s relationships were primary and “cannot be measured or easily defined.”2 Even so, for some things, there is truth in the measure-manage aphorism. As we saw with productivity hacker Nick Winter in chapter 4, measurement facilitates personal goal setting, analysis, and accountability. But to stop there is naive.

There are also aphorisms about the limitations of measurement. Here is one often misattributed to Einstein: “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” There is also the dilemma that measurement itself is distorting. Measuring one variable tends to prioritize it over others. (Winter’s solution to this quandary was to double down on counting and set goals for his social and romantic activities.) Worse yet, measurement tends to be followed by manipulation and cheating in competitive contexts. This has been observed in many fields, by many scholars. An anthropologist, commenting on overzealous measurement in education, put it this way: “when a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a good measure.”3

Kelly and Wolf, however, are unapologetic defenders of quantification. To announce QS more broadly, Wolf published two high-profile essays, accompanied by a TED talk. In the New York Times Magazine,


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