Evan Savage

Healthy Isn't A Place You Go To

In this post, I expand on some earlier thoughts about the
nature and purpose of the Quantified Self movement.
In looking at personal identity from a Quantified Self perspective, I argue
that self-tracking gives us a means for reclaiming control of that identity.

The Revelation #

When I started down the philosophical path that ultimately led into the
Quantified Self vortex, it was with a simple question:

How do we build game-like systems to improve our lives?

This isn't a new question. The Reality Is Broken
thesis has long since reached tech geek mantra-hood.
SuperBetter and similar games have broken ground on the
concrete implications of that mantra.

Much more recently, during a walk home with Valkyrie Savage, I had
another thought:

Self-tracking makes self-expertise possible.

We may self-track for a variety of reasons, including:

Whether data collection is your focus or merely an unintended side effect,
this data makes it possible to know ourselves in new ways. This
self-knowledge is different from expert other-knowledge.

Self-Knowledge and Other-Knowledge #

Doctors are trained to recognize general patterns of the human body.
From a diagnosis perspective, your medical history is only interesting
insofar as it allows you to be grouped together with similar patients.
That grouping is a pattern profile in your doctor's mind, and it informs their
expert other-knowledge of you.

By contrast, you have intimate self-knowledge of your body and its symptoms.
When do they occur? After eating which foods? In which locations?
How often? How severe? The doctor will often ask these more technical
questions
to fill in the data missing from their patterns. There are,
however, important questions that are often either missed or left barely
explored:

Many of these questions hinge on *motivations, emotions, and relationships.* As questions of identity, they may be more likely to lead to lasting treatment. {" Too often, though, we cede complete control of personal questions to doctors, teachers, and other experts. "} In doing so, we give up the power to decide which questions are important and which are not.

This is not to say that experts are without value. In their current
incarnation, they fulfill much of the promise of the Quantified Mass.
Their (hopefully) extensive training equips them with powerful insights
rooted in centuries of scientific inquiry.
Powerful as those insights are, however, they are ill-suited to address
more personal questions
in a way that is meaningful to you.

Personal Identity And Place-Ism #

I titled this post:

Healthy Isn't A Place You Go To

What do I mean by that? Consider these popular sentiments:

I'd argue that a lifetime of handing over control of these personal questions
conditions us to associate states of being (fitness, wellness, learnedness)
with places (gym, doctor, school). Those states become mechanical attributes
devoid of identity, knobs we go elsewhere to have others tweak for us. For
lack of a better term, I'll call this place-ism.

This isn't just philosophical posturing. There is growing inquiry
into the hypothesis that behavior and belief change are linked.
A number of theories, such as
self-determination theory and the
Transtheoretical Model,
have sprung up in an attempt to rigorously define these processes of change.

If that's the
case, training ourselves to externalize behavior change can't be good, as it
necessarily reduces our capacity for belief change.

Beyond Place-Ism... #

Self-tracking allows us to tie mechanical questions - where? when? what?
how much? - to personal questions and vice-versa. Data help us
answer personal questions. Personal questions help us decide what
data are needed to answer them. This cycle makes us active participants in
our own lives.

What role do experts have in this cycle? The point is not to exclude them
entirely, but rather to change their role from identity gatekeepers
identity consultants.
By treating them as consultants, you seek advice
of your own free will and with the understanding that some of it may not
be applicable to you. You decide what role the consultant plays in your
health, your education, your overall identity.

What if learning were not a place, but a state of being?

This reminds of [Feynman's spinning plates](http://www.thinkjarcollective.com/2012/07/richard-feynman-spinning-plates-and-serious-play/), yet another demonstration of the power of *pervasive learning.* That word pervasive is crucial. {" In this state, there are no boundaries on when, where, or from what learning arises. "} There is *no schedule for learning.* There is no switching between learning on and off modes, only a *variation in intensity.*

...And Back To Gameplay #

How are

How do we build game-like systems to improve our lives?

and

Self-tracking makes self-expertise possible.

related? Self-expertise is the improvement. It breaks place-ism, casts
self-knowledge and other-knowledge as complementary equals, and moves us
towards active participation. Self-tracking is pervasive gameplay, and
that's awesome.