The technological paternalism or the dark side of the quantifying self

Florian Ludwig
3 min readDec 6, 2015

A few months ago the British design agency “superflux” released a concept video with the titel “Uninvited Guests”. The video describes the relation of a seventy years old man called Thomas and his highly developed smart home. What firstly seems like utopia is almost part of our everyday life. Different devices, which document our nutrition accurately, remind us to occupy our medication and analyse our sleep, seem quite similar to currently installed applications we use each single day. These are all aiming for a better and healthier way of life.

At the beginning Thomas follows the new defined rules quite strictly, but the longer Thomas shares his life with the new technologies the more clearer becomes the conflict between Thomas’ and the devices’ expectations. Finally Thomas starts fooling the devices to live a self-determined life.
This is one example of how restricting the technological and omnipresent paternalism can be. But Thomas’ rebellion is not the norm in our society since the consciousness of the restrictions is often missing.
We life in the age of the “quantifying self”. A movement with its origin in America and the goal to measure, to analyse and to evaluate personalized data with different software and hardware solutions. Innumerable applications help us to measure every single step, to visualize the burned calories and to show us a detailed analysis of our sleep. The main goal of the “quantifying self” is to get a better consciousness of our own body and to counteract the subjective perception of ourselves with the help of technology.

When we first think about these goals and these expectations set up, there is nothing reprehensible in increasing the sensibility for our own body. But most technologies press us into a daily competition with ourselves, e.g. my fitness app wants me to go few miles further the next time or to go to bed earlier today. Chased by the superlative of the quantifying self and the never ending evaluation, it is a logical consequence that our ambition grows to compete in the daily competition: the competition with ourselves. It might appear as if we did not know that less sleep is unhealthy and we first needed the feedback of our digital devices to act healthy.

The omnipresent data cloud gets to our most reliable source and the technological breakdown to our biggest maxim. We collect data of a body, from which we become estranged step by step since the “technological voice” has taken the place of our inner voice. Now the most important question is which one we trust most.

In every aspect of our live we seek emancipation and in the most private and intimate aspect — our own body– we allow this “technological voice” to give us orders. Technology which restricts and sets limits to ourselves, inevitably willl not last that long. Technology should be the catalysator to reach our goals and dreams, however, it should also redefine them.

Of what most people do not think during the whole discussion is that even electronical devices do make mistakes. And who thinks that failings are acceptable concerning their own health? The supporter of the “quantifying self” probably least.

As you have reached the end of my article I have to put some things in the right order. I know this article is some sort of provocative and critical concerning the “quantifying self”. The aim of writing this article was to show not only the positive aspects and getting the consciousness and responsibilty back to the users. I have to admit I really like my currently installed running app, but I also do — or wouldn’t do — sports without the app installed.

Thanks for reading! Please give me a shoutout on Twitter if you have any questions, if you have ideas for future topics you’d like to see or simply liked what you have just read.