Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Quantified Self-focused Narcissism

South by Southwest (#SXSW) is in full swing in Austin, TX. The conference organizers wouldn't give me a comp press pass, so I am following the health track from afar via Twitter using the #sxswh hash tag.

There's seems to be a lot of talk right now at SXSW about the "Quantified Self" as mentioned by NPR (here): "Technology has made it easier than ever to track your activity levels, your sleep cycles, how you spend your time, and more. The self-trackers who near-obsessively capture and analyze their own data are part of a growing 'Quantified Self" movement. Self-tracker Peter Zandan, an executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies headed up a panel on Quantified Self this year at SXSW."

"Interested in giving self-tracking a try?", asked NPR. Yes, I am, but only because I received an UP bracelet by Jawbone as a Christmas present. UP is "a uniquely trendy wrist-worn pedometer" that communicates with my iPhone. It resembles a black Livestrong-style bracelet except that it is an ugly black thing:

I've been wearing this thing now for a few weeks because I think it's cool -- I believe billionaire Walden Schmidt on Two and a Half Men wears one (see his left wrist).

But then I read this comment from "Eric Larson" on the NPR site:

"Self-examination and self-awareness via all this tech-driven tracking are great at some level, but not too useful unless they are linked with motivation to change whatever behaviors are problematic or reinforce those that are healthy. Otherwise they're a sign of self-focused narcissism if one fixates and gloats over the results, or self-flagellating low self-esteem for failing to meet whatever standards one is using. Either way, it's pretty self-absorbed to be tracking all that data without a clear purpose, and a surrender to technology for technology's sake. Just sayin'"

I think that's a pretty good assessment of the "Quantified-Self" movement. The movement could capitalize on "self-focused narcissism" by designing better looking gizmos. For example, how would Steve Jobs redesign my UP thingee? Maybe the Apple "Watch" will break new ground here because I keep glancing down at my UP on my left wrist expecting to see the time!


  1. Looks like a Power Balance Bracelet, only it has a plug.

    1. Are you referring to the Apple watch thingee?

  2. John, just returned from SXSW. Sorry you couldn't be there in person to take it all in. No doubt you'd be simultaneously bemused and enthralled. It's a dimension of our culture that old guys like us can only begin to get our arms around. Lots of tats and plaid. Not sure I spotted any Hawaiian shirts in the mix!

    Setting aside for the moment that "self-focused" narcissism is rather redundant, I think there's a fine line between self-awareness and self-obsession when it comes to our health. We increasingly recognize the power (behavior change) that comes from the former and the danger (eg., hypochondria, self-diagnosis) that comes from the latter. Lots of us, myself included, are using these devices to get in touch with what we are -- or are not -- doing on a daily basis. On balance I'd say the QS movement is a very positive force. It's driving not just more self-awareness, but exciting innovation in digital health.

    As a result, the gizmos are definitely getting better. Case in point is the work that Sunny Vu and his team are doing at Misfit Wearables. I'd argue they've come as close to anyone in channeling Steve Jobs with this device. It's elegant simplicity in the most Apple-esque way. If a little "self-focused narcissism" continues to drive this kind of innovation, I say let 'er rip!

    1. David,

      Some day I will attend SXSW, but that will be when it's so popular that no one goes there anymore as Yogic Berra would say.

      Regarding these "gizmos," I'd like to have a conversation -- maybe with you on my BlogTalkRadio show/podcast -- about the "Quantified-self movement" and what's in it for pharma, if anything. After all, some pharma companies have glucose meters, which are absolutely necessary for diabetics. But how many of them are "smart" -- i.e., hooked up to your iPhone with an app and website? What about other gizmos pharma may develop in concert with the trend toward using diagnostic tests to determine if a med is right for you. I dunno, just some random thoughts about topics we could discuss :-)


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