The organization man


One of the first pics with my new narrative clip 2, writing on a city bus.

About two weeks ago, an interview about my life logging came out in the SemanalXL, a magazine published on Sundays with several newspapers in Spain. Some friends read it and I’ve had several conversations about it. Usually we end up talking about the usefulness of quantified self in general. Most people like the idea, they find it interesting, but it also sounds exhausting. It probably seems to them like it may take a lot of time, and they’re not sure how practical it all is. Typical questions are, Why did you start? How much time does it take you to log? and Why do you do it at all?

So I just wanted to mention here briefly, why I don’t think it’s a waste of time. First, however, it may be good to distinguish between quantifying out of curiosity as opposed to quantfying for a specific goal. I think its similar to the perennial battle between academia and industry, which comes up all the time in my line of work, and is summed up very nicely in a book I’m currently reading (The Organization Man by William Whyte, published way back in 1956).

Science, or in this case the curious quantified selfer, tends to ask ¿why?, while companies, exemplified by the organization man, tend to ask ¿how? There is a lot in between, but the science side is generally a bit closer to coming up with new ideas, while the organization people (and most of the general public) tend to focus on practical applications for previously discovered ideas. A more scientific quantified selfer is trying to find new ways to organize things in his environment while an organization man is interested in the product, the app, making the hardware or software to help people measure things (and possibly make money). The latter maybe not actually be quantifying much about themselves, but for the former, the self is key. I think the scientific quantified selfer is similar to what Alberto Frigo calls the “stoic quantifier“.

I, for one, really like the idea of scientists as people who can recognize the “virtue of purposelessness”, as presented by Whyte in Part 5 of his book (entitled, The Organization Scientist). They don’t worry too much about where their game is taking them.


So, I think that when friends first hear about quantified self or life logging they may be interested, but don’t go on to quantify their lives because they are caught between these two sides; one the one hand the effort needed to log without any clear goal in mind, and on the other, worrying about the entrepreneurial part (how useful is this?, and if I participate, will somebody be making money off of me?).

To avoid that dichotomy, it may be a good idea to do some simple quantified self experiments, without getting into gadgets, phones, or computers right away. Simply using a watch, for example, you can time anything and think about how it sometimes goes slower or faster and why. Just thinking about it and reviewing the data the next day, can produce new ideas and valuable changes in habits. A rather silly sounding example is timing urination duration (yes, how long it takes you to pee), which I may talk about more in the next blog. How variable is it and why? Another one I’ve tried, that is quite analogical, is mood mapping, which is also quite easy to do and quite revealing.



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