Biofeedback, Biofeedback on Crack!, Fitbit, Fitbit Manifesto, Fitness is the sum of your life?, Hershel Toomin, Identity, Lifehack, Lifehacking, Not the sum of your data fields, Protect your personal data, Quantified Bob, Quantified Self, Reductionism on Steroids, Secret of Contentment, Time and Attention, You are Quantified!
I mean, do you remember when biofeedback became a science?
Thanks to Hershel Toomin’s research back in the early 1970’s, we now have advances in biofeedback with legitimate medical benefits. The Mayo Clinic writes:
“Biofeedback is a technique you can use to learn to control your body’s functions, such as your heart rate. With biofeedback, you’re connected to electrical sensors that help you receive information (feedback) about your body (bio).
This feedback helps you focus on making subtle changes in your body, such as relaxing certain muscles, to achieve the results you want, such as reducing pain. In essence, biofeedback gives you the power to use your thoughts to control your body, often to improve a health condition or physical performance.”
Could Toomin have known back in the 70’s that Fitbit would become biofeedback on crack?! According to the Fitbit Manifesto:
Every moment matters and every bit makes a big impact. Because fitness is the sum of your life. That’s the idea Fitbit was built on—that fitness is not just about gym time. It’s all the time.
You are Quantified!
Clearly I missed the memo that “fitness is the sum of my life,” but now that self tracking has become tangled in dendritic data fields, we are becoming uneasy with another form of reductionism: being quantified.
According to Quantified Self, one can possess self knowledge through numbers. According to Quantified Bob,
Hack. Track. Analyze. Optimize. Rinse. Repeat.
Quantified Bob (Troia) is so committed to self-tracking that he says he is
Donating my being to citizen science.
Reductionism on Steroids
If we have entered the age of biofeedback on crack, then conflating our “being” with “our quantifiable data” is reductionism on steroids!
Thus John Pavlus writes in “Confessions of a Recovering Lifehacker“:
I used to be a lifehacking addict, and in some ways I still am. I have a perverse love of systems and efficiency: analyzing, configuring, optmizing, categorizing, defining, and parameter-setting.
He confesses “there was always a better way to do almost anything.” The addiction to quantification is the addiction to discontentment; it is biofeedback of a downward spiral for it is inherently reductionistic: it reduces you to the sum of your parts, or as Fitbit rather proudly betrays, it reduces you to “fitness as the sum of your life.”
Thus I must insist: No.
No it is not true. You are not the sum of your quantifiable data sets; you are profoundly more – for your identity is understood best in, with, and by the One who made you for Himself.
Lifehacking as an easy substitute for living
When asked “why a lot of super-smart, talented folks really go down the rabbit hole with this life hacking stuff,” Pavlus answers:
Maybe (like me) they just have a proclivity for that kind of thinking. (I won’t deny that it’s a lot of fun sometimes — like playing with a Rubik’s cube.) Maybe they actually, truly find meaning in it, and in helping other people to find meaning in it (rare, I think, but possible).
But in a lot of cases — also like mine — I think lifehacking is so seductive because it’s simply easier than asking some bigger, harder, more important questions about where your time and attention go.
Where does your time and attention go?
In my series on “Time and Timelessness” I regularly explore this very question:
“If you have been a regular reader of this blog, I suspect you feel you’re in an existential loop continually being brought to the importance of coming to know who your are. Your true identity is found in the One who made you for Himself.
Therefore lift your head, change your posture of this age, look up from your digital devices [your fitbit, and your other quantifiers], and look someone in the face: talk, commune, listen, be present.
And when you are ready, consider looking to the person of Jesus in whom you find your soul. This might be as good a definition of what it means to be “saved.”
I leave you with the final words of Pavlus’ confession:
Life — the only one you get — consists of what you pay attention to. There is literally nothing else. The awesome thing… is that no one gets to decide what you pay attention to except you. It seems easy, banal even; it’s not. Learning how to do it — effectively, meaningfully, and relatively unselfishly — is pretty much the most profound thing you can attempt with the time you’ve got left.
And there ain’t no app for that.
Heather Townsend Kassian said:
Love this article! Very true, we do trend towards reducing everything we can in the hopes of fuller understanding…and in the process, we often “reduce” that very understanding we seek.
Thank you for this 🙂
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R.H. (Rusty) Foerger said:
Thanks for the encouragement! I am delighted that you both, read the article, and got what I’m getting at (knowing that I can make it hard on readers, ha). “Reductionism” by measurement is pernicious in our times, and we hardly know it… yet. We are never more ourselves than when we are more in Christ. Grace to you.
Dan Shute said:
Interesting to note that if “Life consists of what you pay attention to”, and you pay attention primarily to your Fitbit, or other quantifying devices, then the tag line that “fitness is the sum of your life” becomes uncomfortably close to the truth.
This is a tragic waste of supernatural potential made worse by the fact we are ultimately in control of our behaviour, and are therefore responsible for a waste that dwarfs the things we try so hard to fix.
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R.H. (Rusty) Foerger said:
Thanks for the comments Dan. Well said: “tragic waste of supernatural potential” – I shudder to think of all the ways I already tragically waste this. This waste is exacerbated by the unchecked fad of self-quantifying to the Nth degree. In the mean time – “checking what I pay attention to.”
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