Mindful Cyborg

Mindful Cyborgs: Contemplative living in the age of quantification, augmentation and acceleration.

Hosts: Chris Dancy and Klint Finley.

Listen or download on Soundcloud and iTunes.

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Transcript, show notes and more inside.

Content of the Week


CD:       Welcome to Mindful Cyborgs, Episode 2. Hey Klint, how are you doing?


KF:       I’m doing good. How are you?


CD:       Being mindful. I’m checking my heart rate today so we can share that on the show.


KF:       Great. And some live quantification.


CD:       Yes, real-time podcast quantification. Absolutely. So a quick update before we get right in to the news. We went live on SoundCloud and iTunes two weeks ago… or less than two weeks ago. And over a thousand plays on iTunes and SoundCloud combined in two weeks, and over a hundred and something in fans in Facebook, and the conversations in Google+ group are out of control. So, I don’t know. Big congrats to the idea.


KF:       It was a joint effort. But, yeah, thanks for dragging me into this. I should spend more time on the Google group actually. I haven’t actually really checked in there.


CD:       It’s cool. We’ve got a Google group, we’ve got a Facebook group, we’ve got a Twitter account. We try to share these stories and talk about the show each week and these places, and it’s amazing how many people share their own stories in those places so it’s kind of fun. What have you got for me top of the show here?


KF:       I think probably the biggest story for this week in terms of our beat, if you will, would be Paul Miller coming back online after a year offline. It seems like he learned what Buddhists and Greek Cynics — the philosophers, the Cynics — have known for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years, which is that even without modern technology being mindful is hard. He said that he thought he would be more productive and live life more fully when he went offline and then he found that he was still often frittering away his time and not hanging out with friends and that sort of thing. I mean, that’s why contemplative practices came into being in the first place as I understand it. People wanted ways to quiet their minds and focus on what they needed to focus on because the world is full of distractions, whether it’s the internet, where it’s smartphones, or something else. Did you read that story?


CD:       Absolutely. I met Paul twice since he went offline and actually I met him at the Theorizing The Web Conference in New York City. This is important for me personally because as we talked about when we did our story, is I actually use mindfulness practices — specifically something called beginners mind – when I consume information. So I actually use technology as a focus point. Beginners mind just means you look at something as if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen it. You can do it with anything in your house, you can look at your hands. But, for me, consuming information by being present with it made it not so overwhelming.


KF:       Speaking of the Theorizing The Web Conference, Nathan Jurgenson was quoted in Paul’s article about coming back online and he also talked about how there’s not this really dual online and offline world anymore. That’s also sort of raises some issues about the idea of unplugging, because if you are in a group, even if you don’t have a smartphone, you’re not on the internet, but if you’re sitting at a table for dinner with four people who have smartphones, are you really offline? You know, in conversation people start to look things up or send messages…


CD:       You’re still online, because I mean someone could take a picture of you or talk about you. I mean, I call it, you know, a kind of digital sonogram. So, you know, even though you’re not fully formed you’re still partly there, you’re still part of the fossil record of that event. It’s really interesting. One of the things that I’ve read about this digital dualism that I just really enjoy the idea is Nathan calls it “in real life fetish.” That we actually, in some ways, use the idea of duality, being online or offline as justification or proof of the other. And I think it reminds me of work-life balance, right? If you get to talk about your work-life you can justify your personal private life. And not people talking about unplugging and being online in some type of fetish way to justify that they actually have an offline life. And it seems odd when we’ve gotten to the point where we need to actually create something to support something.


KF:       Do ever try to unplug, you know, just turn off all your sensors, turn off the internet and get away?


CD:       Dude, do you know who I am?


KF:       Yes, that’s why I’m asking. I’m curious if you ever do.


CD:       Sorry, I was joking. Yeah. Yeah, I do. I have nights when I sleep without sensors. I don’t know. It’s kind of like spending a night in your parents’ house with your partner. You know, you’re not going to fool around. There are nights where I just sleep without sensors because I just want to be… I don’t know. Organic.


KF:       I actually had a similar experience as Paul in terms of like how he got to the point that he did when I was at the same age at 26. I was just sort of the life I was living and I signed up for the Peace Corps which, you know, is a multi-month process. And so during that time I met the woman who became my wife and then ended up not actually going to the Peace Corps and that was actually kind of when I started getting interested in mindfulness. It was like I just kind of had to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to escape the modern world and go live in a mud hut somewhere and not have the internet, I was going to have to actually live in this world. And that was five years ago and I think I’m only barely beginning to make any progress towards living mindfully in this world, like the tagline of our show says.


CD:       Yeah, I think one of my favorite authors on mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, says we have only moments to live. When I think about monks on the sides of mountains and things and I think about how people describe the future of technology, and describe this invisible UI or technology disappears around you. If that’s true, if technology does just melt around us slowly as we’re seeing it happen now, then the idea of sitting on a mountainside and being contemplative any world over, you know, with a lot more technology than we have now, actually makes sense and it’s one of the reasons I think it’s so important for people especially who are involved in digital existence of some sort where they feel like they have to be connected, to really look in the mindfulness because as it starts moving away from you it will become important to understand what you’re left with.


KF:       What stories did you read this week that you thought were interesting?


CD:       Gosh, I always have too many of them than have for 14 minutes. So, obviously, for me, I think BodyMedia getting purchased for $100 million. Huge. I met their founder at the Quantified Self Conference at Stanford last summer. The guy was amazing. I think it’s my favorite sensor I wear. Of course I would probably… you know, there’s a lot of things I want that’s different about it. One of the things I like about it, the Nike Fuelband is just the utilitarian nature that you can see the time. I know that’s silly, but sometimes I just don’t want to look at my phone for the time. To me, technology is about the options. But $100 million for that business, I mean even if you took away Jillian Michaels who’s on the cover of the webpage selling her brutal work camp, or sweat camp, attitude with that device… if you took her away, that’s a big deal, $100 million. I mean, LinkedIn bought SlideShare for about the same amount, so I think it says a lot.


KF:       Yeah, that was on my list as well but it ties into a couple of other stories that I think we can kind of consider as one big story at least in my mind. Details Magazine ran an article recently called “Who Really Controls Your Personal Data?” And it was a good article, it raised a lot of the questions that we talked about last week about employers getting their hands on your health data that you upload to whatever application. But it didn’t really answer the question of who owns that or who controls that.


CD:       Because it was an analyst piece.


KF:       Yes, it’s really hard to answer that question because the terms of service are different. I think that the BodyMedia acquisition demonstrates that because now whatever agreement you had with BodyMedia is going to change to an agreement with Jawbone.


CD:       Yeah, and I just, over in Reddit, someone posted a story about this. There’s a good quantified self group on Reddit and someone posted this. And I said, one of the things again that’s paramount about BodyMedia that was unlike any of these other groups, BodyMedia lets you download CSV as your data at will. Jawbone, you’ve got to hack it through GitHub.


KF:       But, the reason I ended up sending my BodyMedia back, I returned it, was because I wasn’t comfortable with how tied in it was to the cloud which it wasn’t bothersome in it of itself and it wasn’t so much the money, but it was this realization that if BodyMedia went away that the device would just sort of stop working as far as I can tell, unless somebody hacked it which it seems pretty likely that that would happen. It just didn’t feel like a very open device. It felt like something that, unless I… you know, I could get my data out of it if I wanted to, but I didn’t really have control over it.


CD:       Right, out of all the devices to me that’s the one that’s easiest to download the raw dumps. But, again, this goes back to why I started doing what I started doing three years with this low friction data collection, was I don’t trust any of these systems. Even the WiMos in my house, if I don’t have automation like through Zapier or IFTTT to collect this data in Evernote, my Google calendar in spreadsheets, I don’t know where it’s going to go. And I think it’s important to have the conversation… if someone wants to talk about data ownership, you know, at this point you need to do something about that, you need to be the steward of your own data, just like you’re the steward of your own physical health.


KF:       In the way I wish things would work and I don’t know how technically feasible it is, is that the data would live in a place basically encrypted with a pass phrase that only I have and that I would just selectively release it to any cloud provider so that if I decided, at some point, that I didn’t want BodyMedia to have this data anymore, that I wouldn’t have to worry about them being acquired or them really deleting it because there’s been concerns with Facebook… when you delete your Facebook profile, if it’s really gone. But if it lives in an encrypted state that only I can decrypt selectively and temporarily, then that issue is sort of mooted. That’s the way I would like things to work.


CD:       We need a Klint personal data API.


KF:       Yes. But there’s a lot of technical challenges, I think, to accomplishing something like that.


CD:       And the money is not on your side.


KF:       No, not at all.


CD:       Anything else?


KF:       No, did you have anything?


CD:       Gosh, I’ll just put a link in the Show Notes. Something I started experimenting with since we last recorded which I’m kind of loving, so outside of the low friction data collection I found this really crazy artsy way of doing layered API quantification, so basically using multiple services on your phone to layer all the data over top. I think two quick examples of that would be Simple, where obviously you get location and the amount of money you spent, but then using the activity data or exercise data that it took to walk to that location and get to that location embedded in it. And probably the other one I thought was really cool was using two-three different apps, so soundtracking, Instagram, and this weather app. All three of them API-ing to each other, so you end up with this single photo that has what you’re listening to, where you are, what the temperature is, the actual photo itself, all in one piece of art or one snapshot. Any idea of layered API data like that I think reminds of old kind of grainy home movies, you know, when you think about photographs there’s not a lot of metadata in them, but it’s strange how easily you can layer metadata into a photo right now. Do you want to hit any tweets before we wrap up?


KF:       Sure. I’ve got a couple from Nathan Jurgenson. He says, “Google Glass would be great for bike messengers and great for the rest of us to watch their videos. Hey, Google PR, why not give Glass to a bike messenger instead of a guy in the shower. It would be useful and would have the coolest videos.”


CD:       Ironically, there was just a story yesterday about Google giving a Glass to a guy who went to visit CERN riding a bike. It was two days after Nathan tweeted that.


KF:       I thought it was interesting because I’ve kind of always thought that that sort of heads up display would actually be most useful for people doing physical work. So for any bike messengers or anyone else who’s a courier on a bike or on foot, or whatever, it would be essential to have the same thing, or people with GPS in their cars, on a bike, or that it would be possibly useful for people doing manufacturing, carpentry, or sort of like precision work with their hands, or they could see measurements, they could see “cut here” because this is ten feet, or this is a micro inch or whatever. To me, it doesn’t seem like it would be terribly useful for normal day-to-day consumers. But, you know, that’s what they said about smartphones ten years ago.


CD:       Exactly. And there’s a Tumblr blog now about “White Guys With Glass.”


KF:       Yes, I think that’s what Nathan was responding to.


CD:       Yes, it’s crazy. You’ve got StealThisSingularity, you’ve got a tweet from him.


KF:       Right. That’s R.U. Sirius, the founder of MONDO 2000. He says, “BIG DADA in which 1,000,000 people pledge to randomly disinform about habits, likes, purchases, opinions ad infinitum.” “BIG DADA calls for the Qualified Life: To wit: We only consider you alive if you spend less than an hour a day keeping track of shit.” Last week, we talked about data jamming and actually putting wrong information into quantified containers. But we’ve kind of talked briefly before about how much time you actually spend on quantification. And I spend… I don’t do a whole lot, but I spend only like a few minutes a day at most on the stuff that I do and it’s all manual entry and it still doesn’t take me very long. An hour a day, to me, that sounds like crazy talk. What do you think?


CD:       It is crazy talk, and I think that’s the key. It’s got to be, you know, like Aaron Parecki from Cyborg Camp. It’s got to be low friction and it’s got to be easy, it’s got to be portable. So, you know, I started following him when I found him through our show, and the guy is just brilliant and so funny. Again, if you’re spending… that’s what’s always kind of confused me about the Quantified Self Movement when I’ve gone to local meet-ups for the national conferences. You see these people would spend months as if they’ve got some doctoral thing they’ve got to create of logging of all the stuff so they can give in our presentation. I just don’t think most of us have that type of time, but I don’t know.


KF:       No. I think it’s a hobby for those people and they’re paving the way for everything else, but I think most of us are going to want something that’s automated, that isn’t time-consuming, that doesn’t require us to some program something in R to analyze our data. But I don’t think any of those people from the Quantified Self meet-ups really expect anyone to be as extreme as they are. Even them, I’m not sure that they’re really spending an hour a day on this stuff.


CD:       I mean, not a lot of the apps if you look at the Quantified Self apps, you know, make it really easy to collect stuff. I had a bunch of stories that I wanted to talk about this week where people were working new apps, but again they don’t do a really good job of it. Strangely enough, I saw some guy in GitHub this week who saw your article you wrote on my quantification, and wrote a hack for his Google calendar to collect even more than I’m collecting. Low friction though, he doesn’t want to touch it. So I was like, okay, you might make it to Wired with Klint Finley but if you can make it to GitHub you’ve done something. It’s kind of a joke, sorry.


KF:       Did you have any tweets?


CD:       I just have one that was out there that I put out and I just can’t believe how many people went crazy. I’m not sure if you ever try to figure out why some things resonate with people and others don’t, but I just put a quote by Doc Searls, which was, “Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.” I think the wording of it might have made it so interesting for people. But what interests me about it was the phrasing, “hands-on knowledge,” “abstract authority.” I thought that was really powerful. So, what is hands-on knowledge, if we’re not building pyramids?


KF:       Yes, I mean like what’s hands-on coding experience when you have something that is so abstract?


CD:       Exactly. It’s like [[eyes on.]] Groovy, so we’ve got some events coming up I think on next thing at Cyborg Camp in Vancouver. It’s officially sold out now May 11. And if you’re there, they’re shooting Psycho up the road so you can go to the recreation with the Bates Motel. Then you’ve got something in some other countries.


KF:       Yes, in Barcelona, Spain, the BDigital Global Congress in mid-June. I think it’s June 12 when I’m speaking.


CD:       Perfect. You’ve got Global Future 2045 with the Russian billionaire at the Lincoln Center on June 15-16. There’s actually a special on those tickets at some point. Of course, Buddhist Geeks here in Boulder, August 16-19. So, lots of good stuff.


KF:       Yes.


CD:       Groovy. I’ll talk to you in two weeks. Thanks, Klint.


KF:       All right. Talk to you later. Bye.