Friday, July 31, 2009

Monitoring, Tracking, and Behavior Changing

During the past several months there has been an upsurge in interest about the behavioral changing potential offered by new monitoring and tracking technologies.

The July issue of Wired magazine ran a cover story titled "Living by Numbers: Track your data. Analyze results. Optimize your life. " This piece focused on the emergence of monitoring and tracking technologies that have become available across a wide range of areas. Recent issues of Make and Interactions, respectively titled "Remake America" and "The Waste Manifesto", magazines also focused on possibilities created by these technologies to help us reduce waste and live in more a more sustainable manner.

These technologies enable individuals and communities to generate data regarding various types of activities and the impact of these activities, and then to leverage this data for various purposes ranging from behavioral change (e.g. tracking your runs for performance improvement, as in Nike+ ), to scientific research (e.g. making available personal data for aggregate analysis) and artistic self-expression (e.g. capturing data for lifestreaming, a la Nicholas Feltron).

These various new technologies provide us the opportunity to understand more about, and to impact, our current behavior at individual and community levels. However, the existence of these technologies is not sufficient to drive positive change. we must now design and discover compelling and effective ways to implement these technologies to help individuals and communities to achieve their goals. Articles in both Wired and Make magazines showcase examples where the sharing of data, and the development of games related to this sharing, has helped drive change for individuals and communities.

As we look for opportunities to dissect and analyze our life with these tools we need to be mindful that not everything can be parsed into measurable units for tracking and monitoring.

Life is much more than what can be grasped and measured by our rational mind. We need to remember that all the optimizing in the world is not the solution to make us happier or more fulfilled. If we reduce our experience of life and reality to metrics (in the form of numbers and words) that our mind can easily classify and optimize we will miss out on an important part of the experience of life, which is unmeasurable. At least that is my half-assed new age-y spiritual beliefs lead me to surmise.

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