Quantified self squared and Holy week

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These past few days in Spain, during Holy week, large wooden floats come out of wide church doors, carried by hidden costaleros (men underneath the structures, with cloths on their shoulders and backs). Apparently these things can weigh up to a tonne (2000 pounds) and need 20-50 men (yes, always men), underneath, to bear the weight and presumably their sins. The news today is that a team of doctors and physiotherapists have decided to follow the costaleros and measure their vital signs. So some quantified self type gadgets and apps are shown on national television, including photos of the mayor of Granada with a physiotherapist and a device to measure blood pressure and oxygen saturation in blood (http://www.granada.org/inet/wprensa.nsf/xnotweb/E971B4E50DF2AD1EC1257E1A003E0B76?open&pag=ini).

I’ve searched to try to find out more behind the news, like which apps and gadgets they were using and what interesting things they have found. Alas, neither are available. This is not too suprising, given that the whole thing seems to have started from one report by a newspaper handed out for free in the metro (20 minutos; (http://www.20minutos.es/noticia/2420357/0/app-movil/costalero-mide-salud/constantes-vitales/), but it is a symptom of a phenomena which we’ve seen before, and which one could call “quantified self squared”, or chatter about someone quantifying something, but no one is doing anything (also see Umberto Eco, a little chapter called “Sports chatter” in his book Travels in hyper-reality). Quantified self, at least in what I’ve seen promoted in conferences and on the quantified.self web page, involves quite a lot of transparency and a thought out process that includes telling what did you do, how you did it and what you learned. Those questions are not too dissimilar to the scientific method and, most importantly, bore down into the relevance of doing all this in the first place.

On the positive side, some reporter, some TV channel, seems to be on board with the idea that monitoring vital signs is something positive, healthy, and new technolgoy has made it more mobile. However, at the same time, the general population, who receives no information about the type of apps used, the data analysis or what was learned as a result, will only be and remain voyeurs. At the extreme, viewers will only hear about this initiative again when a costalero, God forbid, actually has a heart attack while being monitored and carrying the Virgin Mary. That would be entertainment, I guess. Happy Easter to all!

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