Sunday, September 21, 2014

the video gamification of life

Given the recent launch of fairly compelling "smart" watches and bracelets - and the already existing "fitness bands", it is fairly clear that computing is moving closer to human bodies. Closer than the smart phone that we currently spend the night with.

And not only is it moving closer to human bodies, computing is learning more and more about human lives - our heath and the way we live; when we sleep; how we sleep, what we had for dinner (to a fairly quantitative extent) and what we think about that politician.  Our life is becoming aggressively quantified. Every one of our behavioural aspects has become a data point in someone's chart. This behavioral map is a godsend to marketers, sociologists and anthropologists. Think of all the hitherto unanswered shower thoughts (eg. "I wonder how many people are having the exact same dinner as I am and watching the same movie as I am.") that can be answered by big data. But that isn't the focus of this piece.

What I'm trying to argue here is: wearables will bring about the video-gamification of real life. The above mentioned quantification of life shall make available detailed statistics for every aspect of life - which one can use in competition with other folks online - or one can use to improve one's own routine.

Did I wake up at the same time as yesterday? Did I bathe longer than yesterday? Yesterday's run was only 780 calories - can I, with a little more effort do 800 calories in more or less the same time? Did my high school colleague (who always seems to be better than me at everything) really actually do 900 calories today? Is the kid sleeping alright? Can I plot her body temperature time for the last 16 hours and see if her cold is abating?  How long has that curry been sitting in the microwave? 

And about that game of tennis yesterday -- how many Newtons of force did my racket impart to the ball when I served up that ace? How do I compare with the pros? Should I give up everything and take up pro-sports because I am that good?  Where did I put my keys? What is the best place I should store my keys given the usual manner I move along the house?

I am not sure I am entirely comfortable with this immersive quantification of life. I find the prospect of surrendering my information to entities which will use it to sell things to me a bit icky (though I cannot articulate my exact problem with it - what is the problem with targeted advertising in lieu of  "catch-all" advertising - when the time spent on serving me advertisements is still essentially the same, if not less.). 

One particular issue I'm a bit concerned about is the fact that I'm enabling a filter bubble to form around me. By allowing an algorithm designed by a profit-maximizing corporation to only show me the things that it thinks I have a high likelihood of clicking on, am I not missing out on more obscure experiences on the internet?  Epiphanies usually strike when one least expects them - when a totally unrelated experience triggers a thought process which helps one better comprehend a problem at hand. Some of these thought processes have been triggered by looking at totally unrelated advertisements and articles. I fear such exercises might be much diminished in a perfectly quantified world .

But all said an done, the geek in me is genuinely looking forward to the imminent extreme quantification of life.

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