The Quantified Human
At SXSW I spoke with some people who predicted that technology will make it possible for people to quantify and track their behaviors, feelings, actions and more during every moment of the day and then to review and analyze the resulting data to better understand themselves so they could make decisions that led to happier and healthier lives. Chris Dancy is already trying to do this and has discovered, for example, that he drives faster when the temperature of his house is higher and that he eats poorly when he watches multiple episodes of Project Runway. Full disclosure, Chris is scheduled to speak at the at the 2014 Healthways Well-Being Summit and I work for Healthways.
The Social Human
So, is this a good idea? Well, maybe. But it assumes that our lack of happiness is a failure to properly understand ourselves, and I'm not sure that's the problem. In fact, it seems more likely that an inordinate focus on ourselves is the source of much personal unhappiness. Some studies suggest that self-focus leads to depression. I'm not sure the solution is technology that super-charges our naval-gazing. Instead it may exacerbate the problem by making us more isolated and self-absorbed.
Another problem with this approach is that it is "self-referential." It is difficult to better understand ourselves by looking only at ourselves. Self-referential systems lead to paradoxes ("This sentence is untrue") which may render such a system unreliable. It's like trying to keep your car in your lane by focusing on the steering wheel.
I think it is more important to understand and connect with others. We are social creatures and happiness depends on those connections which we increasingly struggle to undestand and manage properly in part because of technology's intrusion.
A more useful system might be one that tracked data that define our relationships--an outside-in view of our social connections--that would help us realize when we were getting off track and what we might do about it. One that might divert us from our navals and return our focus to the people and relationships that really do give us happier, healthier lives. This would be more like trying to keep your car in your lane by focusing on the road.
Not that such a system is necessary since we are all wired to relate. Perhaps we could revive those dormant skills if we took our eyes off the screens and the data and returned to looking each other in the eye where we will find a rich source of data about ourselves and our connection to others that has been there all along.
Spread the fire. GS