Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Sunday, February 9, 2014

the quantified un-self

Nicholas Felton, who has for some years now been documenting his life in exhaustive detail and issuing annual reports on his data, want to help us do the same. So he has created the Reporter app, which is all about helping us towards self-knowledge.

Reporter works by buzzing you several times per day with a brief quiz based on the questions Felton asks himself. They range from "Where are you?" to "What are you doing?" and "Who are you with?" Some questions can be answered by tapping Yes or No, while others are multiple choice questions, let you type in text, or offer a location picker that polls Foursquare for nearby places. You can also add your own questions (like "Are you happy?") or program certain questions to occur only when you hit the app’s Awake or Sleep switch (like "How did you sleep?" and "What did you learn today?"). Each time you report, the app also pulls in various pieces of information like the current weather, how many steps you’ve taken today (using the iPhone 5s’ M7 motion coprocessor), and how noisy it is around you using your phone’s mic.

Note that this is pretty much — with the possible exception of the question about learning — self-knowledge as conceived by eliminative materialism: knowledge of the self is basically plotting a body in space. It’s object-oriented ontology, and you are the object.

I’d like to suggest, for a hypothetical update to Reporter, a new set of questions:

  • Did you repay rudeness with kindness today?
  • Did you seek to rectify an injustice today?
  • Were you vindictive today?
  • Did you praise the praiseworthy at any point today?
  • Did you write any snarky tweets today that you now regret?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how faithfully and responsibly did you do your work today?
  • Did you express your love of someone today? If so, in words or deeds?
  • How many times today, if any, did you pray?
  • If you prayed, please report how many of those prayers were (a) thanksgivings, (b) utterances of praise, (c) laments, (d) petitions.
  • If any of your prayers were petitionary, did you petition on behalf of (a) yourself or (b) others?
  • In comparison to one year ago today, have you progressed or regressed in the love of God and your neighbor? Please explain your answer using no fewer than 5,000 words.