I went on a bit of a Twitter rant last night, about how MyFitnessPal doesn’t give me much helpful data:
While it’s called MyFitnessPal, it doesn’t feel much like a pal, and feels more like a diet app than a fitness app:
It’s like a friend congratulating you for eating a lot of whole wheat, but making a face because the egg you ate has a lot of cholesterol in it, even if it’s the only egg you’ve eaten that week.
Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings occurred, and once police identified the accused bombers, the manhunt began. The police and other teams scoured Boston and the surrounding area for the Tsarnaev brothers. Meanwhile, the rest of the country scoured the Internet for their Internet presence. However, this had a new effect in light of the tragedy of the bombing:
The social media droppings the Tsarnaev brothers left behind not only attest to their own immersion in the interactive, electronic world, but they have also provided everyone else with plenty of digital data from which to try to extract patterns and possible meaning — fulfilling that very human need to try to make narrative sense of the tragic and the overwhelming.
(Unraveling Boston Suspects’ Online Lives Link by Link, New York Times)
With the continuing revelations surrounding the extent of NSA surveillance of, and indeed, spying on, Internet traffic and cell phone transmissions, the reality becomes that a more sinister narrative could arise. With the “social media droppings”–combined with location data provided by cell phone metadata, the content and recipients skimmed from our email messages, and decrypted VPN and SSL traffic–a very new, and more elaborate pattern and meaning could be constructed. As Sarah Kendzior points out in her most recent piece for Al Jazeera:
The greatest danger of data collection lies not in the information, but in its interpretation. With billions of pieces of intelligence stored in a given month, the ability to gather data has exceeded the ability to analyse it. The trail supersedes the target. Data becomes its own context.
She goes on to elaborate:
The greatest threat of online surveillance is not that they know us, but that they think they do, and we are hostage to their interpretation. They will spy until “something happens”, and what we naively called “life” will be spit back as evidence.
A soon-to-emerge recurring theme…
Also referred to as “datafication” by the authors of Big Data: A Revolution that Will Transform how we Live Work and Think, metrication can be defined as beginning to see all aspects of our lives as valuable data points and metrics against which to gauge our worth, success, and productivity, a relatively recent trend. Spurred on by technological advances, new tools of monitoring others such as plug-ins and cookies also allow us to track ourselves.
Using metrics to evaluate people is not a new concept–from birth we’re monitored against percentile growth charts by pediatricians and our anxious parents; once we’re of schooling age we are monitored and tracked by the government and school districts using grades and standardized testing–reducing our school performance to “valuable” numbers and the odd, coded comment like “works hard in class”. After graduation and/or college, it could be over, but the working world possesses its own set of metrics. At my own job we track all sorts of data related to customer satisfaction, in addition to how quickly and efficiently we serve our users. This is consistently relayed back to us as workers, with the implicit intent of improving those numbers. The higher the better.