With all this biofeedback now available on our phones, the act of walking, living and breathing can—at least to the “datasexuals” who embrace it—be an ongoing project with limitless potential for improvement. But might such potential also lead to a kind of “Taylorism within”? Applying scientific management to twentieth century business created a workforce optimized for maximum efficiency. Likewise, life-tracking is encouraging us to internalize this dream by optimizing ourselves. Rather than a tool for liberation, we’re using the tech, in other words, to tune our lives for maximum “productivity.”Compete! Compete with your friends, compete with yourself. Tell yourself you're becoming "better than well" if you must. But this is really all about becoming a more perfectly actualized consumer and a more easily manipulated and intimidated subject.
Perhaps none of this should seem surprising for a consumer society that drives on anxiety. If bad breath had to be invented as a disease mouthwash would help to cure a century ago, now the Quantified Self movement suggests we must live in permanent beta, to aim not just at maintaining ourselves but to become “better than well.” And so, Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done and websites like Lifehacker help to turn our lives into a series of sanctioned tasks and goals, where one must carry a “Surprise Journal” to find areas for self-improvement in one’s life, and sleep comes in the form of “power” naps.
We’re living in an entrepreneurial model of humanity, a vision of human beings as start-ups, where unfitness or obesity are viewed as “bugs” to be fixed rather than as products of an economy based on long hours and precarious work. Daily exercise has always been an individual responsibility, but sharing our biofeedback via social media encourages people to compete like businesses, vying for better health scores with the personal data that makes us special. (Flex boasts that it reflects “your stats, not any average Joe’s.”) Here we can all be Superman—“Join over 141,000 other people who want to discover their inner superhero,” urges website Superheroyou—while, back in the complex, unquantifiable real world, we often struggle to maintain control over the most basic facts of our finances and job prospects.And people are agreeing to participate in this.