Book Talk – Chapter 7
To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism
by Evgeny Morozov
Francis Galton was an academic fat cat that extended his metaphors too far; he thought pitiful people, like fleas, could be exterminated through science. His notoriety in the field of Eugenics is now coupled with a movement called the “Quantified Self”. Information Age wonks that are into self-tracking refer to Galton when launching into the theory behind modern measurement. Silicon Valley mines data, so it is to their advantage to fuel a need for data. Chapter seven explores the clever schemes driving all of us to measure ourselves in unprecedented ways all for the sake of more data.
First, electronic sensors shrank in size and became more powerful. Second, once they entered our smartphones, they became ubiquitous. Third, social media made sharing seem normal. Fourth, the idea of cloud computing made it possible to offload one’s data onto distant servers, where merged with the data of other users, it can be expected to yield better results. (Page 230)
Self-tracking can be defined rather broadly: checking your blood sugar, recording how many miles you run, scoring high achievements in video games, ranking likes or views, charting financial portfolios. Similar to previous chapters, the concern here is not the scope necessarily, as much as it is the concern of this accelerating past a point of no return.
Some of this self-tracking movement is due to a narcissistic culture that tries to on the one hand exploit exceptionalism and on the other hand masochistically cry about our loneliness. If you track yourself with precision you can define yourself as unique through the data. Only your numbers tell the story of you, except when keeping up with the Joneses you realize there is a constant race for more precise data to better distinguish one’s uniqueness. Until, you start to also realize that many things are not measured and lament what the abused tracker fails to track yet. How could we have survived beforehand.
Anxiety and technology go hand in hand. Apparently social media groupthink pushes more self-tracking through peer pressure tactics. Many organizations are searching for a tipping point in which a group of self-trackers cause the remaining population to submit. Unfortunately, in any given population, the ones in need of our attention the most are usually not apt to self-track. The ill, the poor, the non-conformists all dodge the pool of eligible self-trackers and in effect place themselves at risk of marginalization. In other words, self-trackers tend to be fervent motivators preaching to the choir whether the congregation is deaf, dumb, or dead.
One potential problem with quantification is that it encourages the government not to bother with painful structural changes and simply to delegate all problem solving to citizens. (Page 253)
The revolution will not be televised because we have already clicked “agree” to that lengthy contract that no one reads. The terms and conditions dictate that we continue to measure our selfish feedback loops of never-ending data. The expert is in the instrument and the greatest truth is derived from within. Not only have we magnified our micro and macro scopes, but also our vanity mirrors. Why search when you already know the answer?
The ultimate triumph of consumerism, the next great stage of search, is contextual discovery. This notion of autonomous search, or the ability to be marketed to subconsciously can only truly be achieved if the consumer is totally convinced. Self-tracking allows the consumer to believe in the self behind the data, the ghost in the machine.