Posts tagged: quantified self
Mindful Cyborgs is a new podcast (or internet radio show, if you will) hosted by Chris Dancy and me. The tagline is: “Contemplative living in the age of quantification, augmentation and acceleration.” In our first episode we talk about data exhaust, augmented dating, fractalnoia and more. You can listen to it or download it from Soundcloud or iTunes.
Show notes and full transcript here.
I wrote for Wired:
Inside most companies, the typical health and wellness program includes regular blood pressure checks, a list of fresh foods for the office fridge, and some sort of exercise guru who shows up every so often to tell people they should work out more. If you’re lucky, you might even get some coupons designed to encourage healthier eating — and cut company insurance costs.
But at Citizen — a Portland, Oregon company that designs mobile technology — things are a little different. Employees at the company are now uploading data on how much they exercise, what they eat, and how much they sleep to a central server, as part of an effort to determine whether healthy employees are actually happier and more productive. The ultimate aim is to explicitly show employees how they can improve their work through better personal habits.
This system is called C3PO, short for “Citizen Evolutionary Process Organism.”
“We didn’t think we’d stick with a normal corporate health and wellness program,” says Quinn Simpson, who helped develop the system. “We’re already data visualizers. We already do quantified self.”
Kickstarted by Wired’s Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly, the quantified self movement aims to glean more insight into our general well-being through statistics. Typically, this is a personal undertaking, but the same ideas are now moving into the business world. Chris Dancy, a director in the office of the chief technology officer at BMC Software, tracks his life in an effort to prove his worth to employers, and now Citizen is taking things even further.
I think it would be pretty interesting to participate in something like this, but like many others I worry about what it would be like if there were either mandated or if there was just social pressure to participate. At the moment the Citizen folks are doing this mostly for fun, and as I should have made clear in the article, the only data they have is what you share. You could put completely false information into RunKeeper or a diet tracker.
But at companies like Whole Foods, which offers its employees discounts for having a lower body mass index, things can get Orwellian quick.
From Danger Room:
In its ongoing quest to measure every aspect of U.S. troops’ physiology, the Pentagon’s esoteric research enclave wants to develop a durable, unobtrusive device that can track the body’s physical response to stress. Military scientists believe that using the device — preferably a tattoo — to track heart-rate, temperature or bio-electric response during various training situations will help them crack the code of combat fatigue.
Darpa, the same guys who are working on robot ostriches, battlefield illusions and a texting spy camera, recently requested research proposals to develop the next generation of bio-statistic devices. The solicitation, which opened last month, hopes new technologies can transcend the current paradigm of patient monitoring of needles, gels and electrodes. And advanced materials make it possible to integrate everything from the sensors to the transmitter into thumb-sized membranes that can stick to skin — like temporary tattoos.
This makes a lot of sense to me. I recently tried out a BodyMedia arm band, but returned it because it was a bit too big to wear day to day (it wouldn’t be bad for wearing just during workouts though). But a temporary tattoo that could track much of the same stats would solve the bulk/appearance problem without having to resort to, y’know, implants.
I wrote about the extreme quantification of work for Wired:
Tesco — the company that runs a chain of grocery stores across Great Britain — uses digital armbands to track the performance of its warehouse staff.
A former Tesco employee told The Independent newspaper that the armbands provide a score of 100 if a task is completed within a given time frame, but a score of 200 if it’s completed twice that fast. “The guys who made the scores were sweating buckets and throwing stuff around the place,” he told the paper.
Tesco representatives said the devices allow users to switch into a “break mode” for up to 25 minutes a day. But that anonymous employee claimed that using the toilet without logging the trip as a break would result in a surprisingly low score, even if the task was finished within the allotted time.
That’s just one of the many ways that employers are using technology to track employee productivity. Call centers have long used metrics such as call time to rank employees, and gamification software may take it to new levels. Darpa wants to track soldiers’ health. Apparently, IBM has a tool for detecting disgruntled employees. And Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff has boasted of a “Chatterlytics” system for ranking employees on their use of the company’s internal social network.
Our work is being re-quantified — in a big way — and Chris Dancy, a director in the office of the chief technology officer at BMC Software, thinks it’s time for employees to take these metrics into their own hands. “If you can measure it, someone will,” he says, “and that somebody should be you.”
Dancy is connected to at least three sensors all day, every day. Sometimes, it’s as much as five. They measure his pulse, his REM sleep, his skin temperature, and more. He also has sensors all over his house. There’s even one on his toilet so he can look for correlations between his bathroom habits and his sleep patterns.
He’s on the cutting edge of the “quantified self” movement kickstarted by Wired’s Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly. But it’s not just his body and environment that Dancy tracks. He constantly takes screenshots of his work, and everything he does — every meeting, every document he creates, every Tweet he sends, every file he shares, every screenshot he takes — is logged in Google Calendar, providing him with a timeline and his entire work life. If you ask him what he did on a particular day, he can tell you with great precision.
And he thinks every white collar worker will need to adopt a similar regimen soon.
The Independent reports:
The former employee said the device provided an order to collect from the warehouse and a set amount of time to complete it. If workers met that target, they were awarded a 100 per cent score, but that would rise to 200 per cent if they worked twice as quickly. The score would fall if they did not meet the target.
If, however, workers did not log a break when they went to the toilet, the score would be “surprisingly lower”, according to the former staff member, who did not want to be named but worked in an Irish branch of Tesco. He said that some would be called before management if they were not deemed to be working hard enough. “The guys who made the scores were sweating buckets and throwing stuff around the place,” he said. He said the devices put staff under huge pressure and many of his colleagues using them in Ireland were eastern Europeans, with limited English. He said lunch breaks did not result in staff being marked down. Tesco confirmed that the devices were also in use across its UK stores.
Tesco in Ireland told the Irish Independent that a “break” function could be used to register genuine stoppages and around 25 minutes had been allowed per day for that. But any other time would be monitored. A Tesco spokesman told The Independent: “Arm-mounted terminals are a working aid and at no time are they used to monitor colleagues while on their breaks. They make it easier for our colleagues to carry out their role as they don’t need to carry paperwork around the distribution centre.”