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Postmodern Village
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The Data Driven Life
by Rob Cursewile

The Simi people of Lower Lapband have seven main gods. Of these, three, Splytt, Resette, and Llog are considered tricksters whose only job it is to annoy the human race.

Work among the Simi is considered a great evil, but play has perils of its own; when engaged in with too much seriousness, one is said to be "thorned by Splytt" or "running rampant with Resette." The mad god Llog is known among the Simi to leave permanent hashmarks in the skin, one for every minute spent playing too hard, as a permanent reminder of one's sin against leisure.

These trickster gods, like all such metaphysical conceits, function to reveal the person to himself, harrying him by the very value he holds most dear.

For a people so seemingly enamored of time off, the Simi actually laugh very little, not out of any kind of high-mindedness or decorum, but rather out of a lack of attention span. They are a people prone to distraction by the leaves and polished stones that make up their simple toolkit. So for all of their imprecations against playing too intensely, they come off as somewhat cold, and for all their studied nonchalance, they track very carefully just how much or how little play they manage to have, lest they defy the trinity aforementioned.

Data loggers and data tracking apps such as the Fitbit and the iPhone "Health" app are the current Western manifestations of these Simi deities. They drop like blessings unto our otherwise chaotic lives. How else may we be revealed unto ourselves but through our steps and sweat? How else may we be liberated but through the quantum interactions that manifest as syncing our meatspace with The Cloud? The Fitbit is the body sanctified through its association with the virtual, and by its merits, the virtuous. Performance is already measured in the workforce and the bedroom; personal data loggers let the logic of The Market, and how you measure up to it, quite literally, into your heart.    

It is clear, after all, that simply measuring productivity and tracking keystrokes, monitoring service calls and doing time-studies, are not mere means to simple efficiency; they are the apotheosis of human rationality, and, by virtue of the fact that to be human is to be rational, of being human itself.

In the 1950s through the 1990s, Americans interested in physical betterment were forced into barbarity: counting calories, miles, and reps manually. Only those deeply immersed in the sin of lassitude or actually paid to be fit needed to share this information: the former in "food diaries" and the latter in gym time, "practice," "training," and so forth. The pathologically out-of-shape tracked their inputs in order to satisfy the acolytes of health, physicians, and the professionals to keep their positions as the high priests of physical prowess, athletes.

Data loggers, by this metric, represent nothing less than the end of the tyranny of context. Previous manifestations of humanity have all been subject to the specificity of time, space, and social condition. Cultural norms and expectations have masked the basis of human potential, forcing compliance to situational realities. The Fitbit and data tracking apps release the body through the generalization of raw data: hereafter for humanity all that matters are the number of steps and reps, beats-per-minute, and the beatific stuff of sweat automatically tracked regardless of space, condition, and time.

No less than Fukuyama's end of history, The Data Driven Life presents itself as the movement from the crass manifestations and barriers of particularity and into the truly idealized. Just as free market economic orders have liberated the market from the vagaries of geography and statist caprices, the Fitbit and its followers promise the liberation of individual bodies from the quirks and inconveniences of individuals themselves. Placement of data within The Cloud essentializes data over personality, thus moving forward into truly measurable progress, beyond the quaint impossibilities of previous, purely qualitative, attempts manifested in faith-based frameworks of political movements such as socialism or democracy.

In this way, electronic data loggers allow the true freeing of the self: not just those in need of public purification nor those whose holiness is set up as a model for us all must make known their personal data; all are worthy and capable of statistical salvation, and all are now accountable to each in The Data Driven Life.

But none of our collection of personal statistics is meaningful as salvific activity without publicity, so the next element necessary for The Data Driven Life is not just syncing activity with ourselves, but syncing ourselves with The Cloud. Social media provide this capability; the compulsion to click "share" brings the confessional forward in time and relevance. Long gone is the puerile and primitive expectation of privacy; truly progressive faithing requires obeisance to the new godhead, The Singularity, not merely the Three-In-One but the One-In-All, the omniscient and pluripotent Cloud.

It is this kind of numeric idealism that Allin Turding postulated half a century ago as "the ending gambit in humanity's long-fought war against itself" (171). And in this, the casting off of humanity's most ancient of afflictions, the soul.  

 

Work Cited

Turding, Allin. "Cybernetics as Salvation, a Postulation." Contemporary Algorithmic Mythopoetics. 5.1 (1964): 166-80. Print.