Tag Archives: social

QSEU14 Breakout Session: QS & Philosophy

A core piece of our conferences are the numerous breakout sessions that cover a wide variety of topics from social sciences to hands-on workshops on privacy and data security. These sessions are facilitated by conference attendees and they put in a lot of work to engage their groups in meaningful discussion. This year, starting with our European Conference, we are going to extend the discussion outside of the conference. Below you can read a description of the breakout by the individual(s) who led the discussion. We invite you to follow up and continue the conversation in our forum, where we’ve carved out a special place for each separate discussion.

Today’s post comes to us from Joerg Blumtritt, who led the QS & Philosophy breakout session at the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference. You’re invited to read his take on the session and then join the discussion on the QS Forum.

QSPhilosophyThe session “QS and Philosophy” was originally intended as something like “Ideologies of QS”: I want to advocate for an open data culture without fear; however I felt the urge to discuss some topics that I felt left open in conversations I had experienced with trackers and gadgets-people, too often during the last months; explicitly my feeling that an idea of self-betterment could entail the fiction, that everyone really can take responsibility for their lives.

The #QSEU14 conference has brought these topics, that I had felt concerned with, even to the plenary programme, e.g. having Josh Berson’s emotional statement against this “liberal fallacy” as you might call it. So I learned that many of us were bothered by these questions, and an open conversation would take place all accross the conference. This gave room in my session to look into the future of QS on a broader perspective.

If QS would become a mass phenomenon (which none of us would have doubts about), will we feel a rise in moral expectations and control? Will our communities be looking after us, taking care, encouraging us, as well as discipline us? A participant in the session told the example of nanny-tracking on facebook, certainly a nasty form of abusing tracking for surveillance. Thus there is need to make a clear stand what is acceptable, and what we should expell from our community; and we have to consider how hierarchy and power (or the lack of it) will influence the effect of our practices. And we should consider in how far self-tracking flips into “other-tracking”. We discussed to some extension, if there is an option to just track yourself without touching others, at all; at least if you start sharing data within a community and built connections to others via your shared data.

The culture of tracking, sharing data, caring for others’ data, too, shows aspects of village life; we care for each other, but we also “get watched” that way. On the one hand, this might sound frightening. On the other hand, do we have the chance to change from “the state” or “the government” enforcing social rules in an authoritarian way, to get to an emergent system? Could we evolve the “QS philosophy” into an operating system that helps people on large scales to live together in a sustainable way?

One important aspect is algorithm ethics – implicit value judgements built into our technologies, often in the form of parameters that someone just set to a certain value without knowing or even considering the consequences. Value judgements are neither per se bad nor avoidable. However, it is our responsibility to demand access to the “black boxes”, to have transparency with technology that effects on our lives, and as makers of such technology to grant others access and have an open conversation with them.

Pre start, I had felt uncomfortable, even demanding (maybe pretentious) with my ethics debate. I was blown away about the turn that the conference as a whole made, in making the ethics debate a major topic from the very first talk to the farewell.

You can view slides from this breakout session here:

Interested in discussing the Philosophy of QS? Join the discussion on the forum!

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Living Without Numbers

Here at Quantified Self we talk about living with numbers. Look a few inches above these words and it’s right there in our four-word tagline: self knowledge through numbers. Information, increasingly numerical information, is becoming a driving force in the world. We’re surrounded by numerical representations of ourselves in almost all aspects of our lives. Probably no more so than in our digital interactions with each other.

Those meaningful and mundane comments, retweets, posts, likes, scores, friends, and followers all have raw or algorithmically defined numerical value. What you think of those value isn’t as necessary as understanding that a value exists. This is the place where you would probably expect me to go on  long diatribe about the nature of scoring our social lives, but I’ll leave that for others to handle. It’s a hot topic and I’m sure you’ll able to find well-written arguments with a quick google search. Instead I want to use this space to show you something interesting and thought provoking.

Facebook Demetricator

Ben Grosser is an artist and a composer, and is currently completing an MFA in New Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He’s also the creator of a nifty little piece of software called Facebook Demetricator. Simply put, the Facebook Demetricator is a  browser extension that hides the numerous instances of social metrics that live in the Facebook interaction experience:

The Facebook interface is filled with numbers. These numbers, or metrics, measure and present our social value and activity, enumerating friends, likes, comments, and more. Facebook Demetricator is a web browser addon that hides these metrics. No longer is the focus on how many friends you have or on how much they like your status, but on who they are and what they said. Friend counts disappear. ’16 people like this’ becomes ‘people like this’. Through changes like these, Demetricator invites Facebook’s users to try the system without the numbers, to see how their experience is changed by their absence.

How does it work? Take a close look at the short gif below or watch this short explanatory video.

Facebook Demetricator Prototype Removing Metrics on the Friends Page

Ben did a great interview with Matthew Fuller that I highly suggest you read if you’re interested in learning more him and the reasoning behind this project. I preparation for this short post I emailed Ben and asked him his thoughts on how this fits into the broader conversation around Quantified Self:

I suppose a key difference between the metrics on Facebook and a more typical QS approach is that in QS one has substantial control over what they collect and how they interpret it.  On Facebook, the what, how, and even in some cases, the why is largely left to the system to manage.  In response, Demetricator removes the numbers and thus makes the familiar unfamiliar, focusing us on the ways those numbers are functioning as drivers of interaction. It’s not that the numbers themselves are bad, but they’re certainly worth questioning—especially when their accumulation and presentation are handled by others.

I’ve leave you with a few thoughts I’ve had on this as I’ve been contemplating this work and Ben’s response.

Numbers are powerful. Ben mentions in his announcement and again in the interview that one of reasons for creating this software was to combat the “(capitalism-inspired) innate desire for more.” Numbers have this seemingly magical evolutionary trait in that they seek to increase and we as creators and consumers of those numbers tend to oblige (I understand this isn’t true for all numbers). This isn’t a judgement statement, just something we need to be aware of as we build and interact with social and behavioral systems that are becoming increasingly quantifiable.

Mind the data. There are these great little inlaid signs in the London Underground that remind passengers to “mind the gap.” It serves as a simple warning to make people aware of the distance between the train and the platform. Being mindful or ourselves through the lens of the data we produce and use has been a recurring theme lately for some of us in the QS community. So much so that we opened up the QS Conference with a wonderful presentation by Nancy Dougherty on Mindfulness in QS. With the increasing scorification of our social interactions in various online mediums the Facebook Demetricator reminds us to be mindful of the role numbers play in our lives and how we choose to use them.

What do you think? Take a look at Ben’s project and if you use it let us know your thoughts. I’ve created a post on the Quantified Self Forum for discussion, but feel free to comment here as well.

Thanks for Ben Grosser and Alex Carmichael for providing feedback on this post. Also thanks to everyone (especially @xarodai) who uses the #quantifiedself hashtag on Twitter. Without you this unique tool would have never surfaced for me. 

 

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Denisa Kera on DNA Dinners

Denisa Kera is a professor, philosopher and designer interested in DNA and food data. She asks, what happens when people share data in social situations? She organizes DNA Dinners at a local hackerspace to experiment with this question. In the video below, Denisa talks about how she turned her genetic data into a bruschetta dish, what other kinds of data she wants to include in future dinners, and why she’s questioning whether or not to publicly share her data. (Filmed by the Singapore QS Show&Tell meetup group.)

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Rob Della Fortuna on Losing Weight with Social Networks

This is our first video from the lively QS Toronto group! Rob Della Fortuna is a coder who likes to eat donuts. He had tried different diets to try to lose weight, with various hilarious results. After some research, Rob found Fitocracy, a social network that turns fitness into a game, and has found it motivating to improve his health. Watch his story in the video below, followed by an active discussion of different food and fitness tracking tools.

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Panel Discussion on Health Incentives

Boston QS organizer Michael Nagle gathers a panel of people in the social health space, and asks them: if not all behaviors can be incentivized, who are the users that succeed with your platform, and who are the users that fail? Dr. Joseph Kvedar of the Center for Connected Health, Rick Lee of Healthrageous, Jackie Thong of Ubiqi Health, and Paul Wicks of PatientsLikeMe take up the challenge. Watch the two-part panel discussion below. (Filmed at the Boston QS meetup.)

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Eri Gentry on Social QS Studies

Eri Gentry describes her presentation ‘Social Studies’ as “like Quantified Self, but Quantified Us!”

She has always been wiling to be a participant in normal experiments; however, she now realizes that she wants her data to improve herself. Now she uses Genomera.com to run her own experiments that allow the participants to be actively involved in the process and openly share the data, observations and insights.

In this video she shares the results of the first Butter Mind group experiment and mentions how experiments usually lead to more questions, and now she is creating ‘Butter Mind 2’ and following her curiosity about sleep by creating another study ‘Orange you Sleepy’ – check it out! (Filmed at the Quantified Self Silicon Valley meetup at Stanford’s Calming Technologies lab.)

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