the fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Deirdre Macken

AFRIEND re­turned from a hol­i­day and de­clared, ‘‘ Guess what I got over­seas?’’ It’s al­ways tempt­ing to an­swer ‘‘ malaria’’ to that ques­tion but you can bet it’s some­thing bright, stylish and not avail­able in down­town Perth or Bris­bane.

It was a bracelet, a strap of rub­bery ma­te­rial, flash­ing the word ‘‘ goal’’. It was flash­ing be­cause she’d reached her goal that day: she’d taken the right num­ber of steps, eaten the right num­ber of calo­ries and even might have erad­i­cated malaria.

It’s easy to be un­der­whelmed by the lat­est fad of self-mon­i­tor­ing health de­vices, es­pe­cially when you’re about to serve tri­fle to your guests. But they have ar­rived and we need to get to grips with th­ese rub­ber bands.

The wrist is where the techie ac­tion is and the first tech­nol­ogy to ar­rive on the wrist is the quan­ti­fied self move­ment — and what a give­away name that is. This move­ment is all about mon­i­tor­ing your­self. It has been around for a while but it’s sud­denly chic be­cause the de­vices look cool.

Th­ese mon­i­tor­ing bracelets are smart and cheap-ish but, best of all, they are ob­vi­ous. Like a char­ity bracelet or a wrist strap from a cool bar, the bracelets let ev­ery­one know what you’ve been do­ing and what you care about. They flash your life be­fore their lives.

Sure, the health de­vices are meant to give you in­for­ma­tion about your own life — how you ex­er­cised, ate and slept — but they are all about shar­ing. They down­load the in­for­ma­tion to your phone, com­puter and, soon, your Face­book page. They flash the re­sults on your wrist with LED lights and they are de­signed to make peo­ple say: what the hell is that?

A geek who re­viewed the health bands de­scribed mon­i­tor­ing bracelets as the gam­i­fi­ca­tion of fit­ness but I pre­fer to think of them as sta­tus anx­i­ety on a strap.

Rub­ber straps are the new bling but, be­fore you leap into the sta­tus race, you might pause to think what th­ese en­velopes of data will do to your life. First, let’s not pre­tend that they will solve the obe­sity cri­sis. The only peo­ple who buy th­ese are al­ready mo­ti­vated. No­body wants to buy a $130 bracelet that re­minds them they’re losers — in flash­ing LED lights.

So, we have rea­son­ably healthy peo­ple strap­ping th­ese things to their wrists be­cause they want mo­ti­va­tion. They want to take charge of them­selves, they want to chal­lenge them­selves but they have no idea how th­ese de­vices can take charge of their lives.

There’s a good chance that to reach your LED-lit kilo­joule-in­take goal, you’ll stop eat­ing at 2.10pm and have to sit out the din­ner party. To meet your 10,000 steps a day tar­get you might find your­self at a din­ner party cir­cling the ta­ble, just to get those last few steps on the band.

When you get to the end of the day, your mood will be writ­ten on your wrist. Sure, the band won’t flash the word ‘‘ loser’’ at you but that’s how you’ll feel when you lie down in bed and set the band to wake you in the morn­ing. (Yes, some bands tell you when to wake up.)

So, you’re feel­ing a bit low. You’re think­ing a di­a­mond watch would make you feel bet­ter. You should have bought a fake one on the streets of Hong Kong while you were over­seas. A bout of malaria be­gins to look at­trac­tive.

But worse is yet to come. If you let a wrist­watch rule your day, you will be­gin to feel as if you are that per­son writ­ten on your wrist. If you are for­ever get­ting in­for­ma­tion on your phys­i­cal state, that per­son be­comes you.

You are lit­tle data. Ev­ery­one worries about how big data is re­shap­ing how we think about the world but lit­tle data can do that too.

This is ex­is­ten­tial­ist stuff but, be­ware, the quan­ti­fied self can be­come the whole self. Re­mem­ber that say­ing, ‘‘ what gets mea­sured gets done’’?

And that brings us to the most fright­en­ing part of this. You will be­come a bore. Th­ese de­vices are so ad­dic­tive, they de­scribe so much about your day that you want to tell ev­ery­one what’s on it.

Data bores. It’s just oc­curred to me and, un­sur­pris­ingly, it’s not an ex­pres­sion that Google has any­thing to say about. So, if you want to avoid be­com­ing a data bore, un­strap the bracelet, get stuck into the tri­fle and give us a slide show of your over­seas trip on your smart­phone.

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