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robertogreco : bellcurve   2

Cyborgology: What is The History of The Quantified Self a History of?
[from Part 1:]

"In the past few months, I’ve posted about two works of long-form scholarship on the Quantified Self: Debora Lupton’s The Quantified Self and Gina Neff and Dawn Nufus’s Self-Tracking. Neff recently edited a volume of essays on QS (Quantified: Biosensing Technologies in Everyday Life, MIT 2016), but I’d like to take a not-so-brief break from reviewing books to address an issue that has been on my mind recently. Most texts that I read about the Quantified Self (be they traditional scholarship or more informal) refer to a meeting in 2007 at the house of Kevin Kelly for the official start to the QS movement. And while, yes, the name “Quantified Self” was coined by Kelly and his colleague Gary Wolf (the former founded Wired, the latter was an editor for the magazine), the practice of self-tracking obviously goes back much further than 10 years. Still, most historical references to the practice often point to Sanctorius of Padua, who, per an oft-cited study by consultant Melanie Swan, “studied energy expenditure in living systems by tracking his weight versus food intake and elimination for 30 years in the 16th century.” Neff and Nufus cite Benjamin Franklin’s practice of keeping a daily record of his time use. These anecdotal histories, however, don’t give us much in terms of understanding what a history of the Quantified Self is actually a history of.

Briefly, what I would like to prove over the course of a few posts is that at the heart of QS are statistics, anthropometrics, and psychometrics. I recognize that it’s not terribly controversial to suggest that these three technologies (I hesitate to call them “fields” here because of how widely they can be applied), all developed over the course of the nineteenth century, are critical to the way that QS works. Good thing, then, that there is a second half to my argument: as I touched upon briefly in my [shameless plug alert] Theorizing the Web talk last week, these three technologies were also critical to the proliferation of eugenics, that pseudoscientific attempt at strengthening the whole of the human race by breeding out or killing off those deemed deficient.

I don’t think it’s very hard to see an analogous relationship between QS and eugenics: both movements are predicated on anthropometrics and psychometrics, comparisons against norms, and the categorization and classification of human bodies as a result of the use of statistical technologies. But an analogy only gets us so far in seeking to build a history. I don’t think we can just jump from Francis Galton’s ramblings at the turn of one century to Kevin Kelly’s at the turn of the next. So what I’m going to attempt here is a sort of Foucauldian genealogy—from what was left of eugenics after its [rightful, though perhaps not as complete as one would hope] marginalization in the 1940s through to QS and the multi-billion dollar industry the movement has inspired.

I hope you’ll stick around for the full ride—it’s going to take a a number of weeks. For now, let’s start with a brief introduction to that bastion of Western exceptionalism: the eugenics movement."

[from Part 2:

"Here we begin to see an awkward situation in our quest to draw a line from Galton and hard-line eugenics (we will differentiate between hardline and “reform” eugenics further on) to the quantified self movement. Behaviorism sits diametrically opposed to eugenics for a number of reasons. Firstly, it does not distinguish between human and animal beings—certainly a tenet to which Galton and his like would object, understanding that humans are the superior species and a hierarchy of greatness existing within that species as well. Secondly, behaviorism accepts that outside, environmental influences will change the psychology of a subject. In 1971, Skinner argued that “An experimental analysis shifts the determination of behavior from autonomous man to the environment—an environment responsible both for the evolution of the species and for the repertoire acquired by each member” (214). This stands in direct conflict with the eugenical ideal that physical and psychological makeup is determined by heredity. Indeed, the eugenicist Robert Yerkes, otherwise close with Watson, wholly rejected the behaviorist’s views (Hergenhahn 400). Tracing the quantified-self’s behaviorist and self-experimental roots, then, leaves us without a very strong connection to the ideologies driving eugenics. Still, using Pearson as a hint, there may be a better path to follow."]

[from Part 3:

"The history of Galton and eugenics, then, can be traced into the history of personality tests. Once again, we come up against an awkward transition—this time from personality tests into the Quantified Self. Certainly, shades of Galtonian psychometrics show themselves to be present in QS technologies—that is, the treatment of statistical datasets for the purpose of correlation and prediction. Galton’s word association tests strongly influenced the MBTI, a test that, much like Quantified Self projects, seeks to help a subject make the right decisions in their life, though not through traditional Galtonian statistical tools. The MMPI and 16PFQ are for psychological evaluative purposes. And while some work has been done to suggest that “mental wellness” can be improved through self-tracking (see Kelley et al., Wolf 2009), much of the self-tracking ethos is based on factors that can be adjusted in order to see a correlative change in the subject (Wolf 2009). That is, by tracking my happiness on a daily basis against the amount of coffee I drink or the places I go, then I am acknowledging an environmental approach and declaring that my current psychological state is not set by my genealogy. A gap, then, between Galtonian personality tests and QS."]

[from Part 4 (Finale):

"What is the history of the quantified self a history of? One could point to technological advances in circuitry miniaturization or in big data collection and processing. The proprietary and patented nature of the majority of QS devices precludes certain types of inquiry into their invention and proliferation. But it is not difficult to identify one of QS’s most critical underlying tenets: self-tracking for the purpose of self-improvement through the identification of behavioral and environmental variables critical to one’s physical and psychological makeup. Recognizing the importance of this premise to QS allows us to trace back through the scientific fields which have strongly influenced the QS movement—from both a consumer and product standpoint. Doing so, however, reveals a seeming incommensurability between an otherwise analogous pair: QS and eugenics. A eugenical emphasis on heredity sits in direct conflict to a self-tracker’s belief that a focus on environmental factors could change one’s life for the better—even while both are predicated on statistical analysis, both purport to improve the human stock, and both, as argued by Dale Carrico, make assertions towards what is a “normal” human.

A more complicated relationship between the two is revealed upon attempting this genealogical connection. What I have outlined over the past few weeks is, I hope, only the beginning of such a project. I chose not to produce a rhetorical analysis of the visual and textual language of efficiency in both movements—from that utilized by the likes of Frederick Taylor and his eugenicist protégés, the Gilbreths, to what Christina Cogdell calls “Biological Efficiency and Streamline Design” in her work, Eugenic Design, and into a deep trove of rhetoric around efficiency utilized by market-available QS device marketers. Nor did I aim to produce an exhaustive bibliographic lineage. I did, however, seek to use the strong sense of self-experimentation in QS to work backwards towards the presence of behaviorism in early-twentieth century eugenical rhetoric. Then, moving in the opposite direction, I tracked the proliferation of Galtonian psychometrics into mid-century personality test development and eventually into the risk-management goals of the neoliberal surveillance state. I hope that what I have argued will lead to a more in-depth investigation into each step along this homological relationship. In the grander scheme, I see this project as part of a critical interrogation into the Quantified Self. By throwing into sharp relief the linkages between eugenics and QS, I seek to encourage resistance to fetishizing the latter’s technologies and their output, as well as the potential for meaningful change via those technologies."]
gabischaffzin  quantifiedself  2017  kevinkelly  garywolf  eugenics  anthropometrics  psychometrics  measurement  statistics  heredity  francisgalton  charlesdarwin  adolphequetelet  normal  psychology  pernilsroll-hansen  michelfoucault  majianadesan  self-regulation  marginalization  anthropology  technology  data  personality  henryfairfieldosborn  moralbehaviorism  behaviorism  williamepstein  mitchelldean  neoliberalism  containment  risk  riskassessment  freedom  rehabilitation  responsibility  obligation  dalecarrico  fredericktaylor  christinacogdell  surveillance  nikolasrose  myers-briggs  mbti  katherinebriggs  isabelbriggsmeyers  bellcurve  emilkraepelin  charlesspearman  rymondcattell  personalitytests  allenneuringer  microsoft  self-experimentation  gamification  deborahlupton  johnwatson  robertyerkes  ginaneff  dawnnufus  self-tracking  melanieswan  benjaminfranklin  recordkeeping  foucault 
may 2017 by robertogreco
All Technology is Assistive — Backchannel — Medium
"You might imagine that “disability studies” is just one more category of identity research that’s been created primarily for political advocacy, interesting only to those directly affected by issues of accessibility, accommodation, or special rights. But “disabled-ness” is another matter altogether. There are at least two big reasons why disability concerns are everyone’s concerns.

First, it’s a false divide to make a we/them: either able-minded, able-bodied, or disabled. After all, how cultures define, think about, and treat those who currently have marked disabilities is how all its future citizens may well be perceived if and when those who are able-bodied become less abled than they are now: by age, degeneration, or some sudden — or gradual — change in physical or mental capacities. All people, over the course of their lives, traffic between times of relative independence and dependence. So the questions cultures ask, the technologies they invent, and how those technologies broadcast a message about their users — weakness and strength, agency and passivity — are critical ones. And they’re not just questions for scientists and policy-makers; they’re aesthetic questions too.

Second, in many cultures — and certainly in the US — a pervasive, near-obsession with averages and statistical norms about bodies and capacities has become a naturalized form of describing both individuals and populations. But this way of measuring people and populations is historically very recent, and worth reconsidering."

"Well — it’s worth saying again: All technology is assistive technology. Honestly — what technology are you using that’s not assistive? Your smartphone? Your eyeglasses? Headphones? And those three examples alone are assisting you in multiple registers: They’re enabling or augmenting a sensory experience, say, or providing navigational information. But they’re also allowing you to decide whether to be available for approach in public, or not; to check out or in on a conversation or meeting in a bunch of subtle ways; to identify, by your choice of brand or look, with one culture group and not another.

Making a persistent, overt distinction about “assistive tech” embodies the second-tier do-gooderism and banality that still dominate design work targeted toward “special needs.” “Assistive technology” implies a separate species of tools designed exclusively for those people with a rather narrow set of diagnostic “impairments” — impairments, in other words, that have been culturally designated as needing special attention, as being particularly, grossly abnormal. But are you sure your phone isn’t a crutch, as it were, for a whole lot of unexamined needs?"

"In the name of good friction, then, I want to suggest some possible dispositions for designers and artists taking a look at ability and disability.

1. Invisibility is overrated.

2. Rethink the default bodily experience.

3. Consider fine gradations of qualitative change.

4. Uncouple medical technologies from their diagnostic contexts.

5. Design for one.

6. And this is perhaps the most important: Let the tools you make ask questions, not just solve problems."

[Previous versions/references here: (now gone) ]

[See also this exchange: ]
sarahendren  2014  technology  assistivetechnology  disability  ablerism  activism  design  audiencesofone  tolls  askingquestions  canon  experience  bodies  humans  norms  standards  standardization  individualization  personalization  bellcurve  normalcy  normalness  lennarddavis  ideal  dependence  independence  questionasking  disabilities  body 
october 2014 by robertogreco

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