Quantified Self: From Performance Measurement to Physical Stimuli

By November 03, 2014

The Quantified Self movement has popularised the idea of measuring your performance over time. Now there are products on the market designed to encourage people to achieve their objectives through physical encouragements or constraints.

After the promise of getting to know yourself better comes the promise of actually changing yourself for the better.
Nowadays there is a wide range of connected objects and mobile apps out there designed to serve the current trend for managing your life by taking a leaf out of the book of managers running companies – i.e. sourcing vital data, micro-managing things on a daily basis, setting goals for improvement/optimisation, and so on. This is the age of the Quantified Self, whose products represent a major slice of the ‘applications economy’. And connected personal time management may be the next big thing.
Now that the Quantified Self trend has begun to ingrain the idea that we ought to run our private lives along the same lines as our working lives, solutions are appearing on the market which offer people the option of imposing restrictions on themselves in a bid to improve overall productivity. 


One example of this is Bossy. This small object looks rather like an alarm clock, and when placed on your desk helps you to complete your daily tasks more effectively, encouraging you to focus attention on the task in hand.  On the various screens that you connect up to Bossy – smartphone, tablet, PC – you will see clearly displayed the three or four main tasks that need to be achieved. However, Bossy does not come up to the level of gaming offered by some other products.
In addition to an array of alarm clock-type gadgets whose purpose is to get you out of bed on time in the morning, there is Pavlok. The designers of this connected wristband think that the best motivation to help transform our good resolutions into reality is a low-level electric charge sent to its wearer. If this physical compulsion seems to resemble the old-fashioned monastic approach, it at least makes use of the latest technology.  
The other great known alternative to physical pain as a motivator is of course monetary sanctions. Since financial motivation seems to be the most effective motivation – or at least certainly less stressful than an electric shock – websites are now appearing which use the threat of online cash fines for those who fail to fulfil their tasks. The gofuckindoit.com site enables users to set themselves challenges under the auspices of a mentor, with a fine to pay if they do not achieve their goal. The site has a large number of users, and claims to have ‘saved’ hundreds of people a total of over $40,000 dollars as they managed to accomplish the tasks they had set themselves within the allotted timeframe.

Meanwhile the iBag is intended to fortify the will of people trying to bring their impulse to shop under control by slapping digital handcuffs on them. Currently still at the project stage, iBag will actually restrict physical access to your purse at specific times or specific geographical locations deemed ‘dangerous’ for your spending compulsions. 

These innovative connected tools are riding the wave of the current entrepreneurial mindset, which is increasingly looking to underpin the popular culture of personal development and self control with the principles of lean management that are often central to the success of tech startups.

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