Do you know what your blood pressure is? How about your heart rate? How many hours of sleep do you get each night, and how many miles do you walk every day? All of this information – and much more – is available to us through recently developed wearable monitoring technology.
Millions of people are using tracking technologies like FitBit, Apple Watch, and other wearables to measure many aspects of our lives, and the media is speculating that the popular obsession with self-measurement is only likely to grow in the years to come. Pretty soon, we may be able to get real-time information about all of our bodily functions, including our thoughts and feelings.
For me, this raises the question: Are human beings more than the sum of our parts? Are we just a collection of electrons firing, hearts beating, muscles spasming? Am I, at the end of the day, just a very complex biological program running to its logical conclusion? When we’ve gathered all the data on the human race – and on each of us individually – will there be any room left for free will? For meaning?
Eventually, will Apple Watch be able to give me a readout on my relationship with God, a temperature check on my soul? Will FitBit be able to provide me with a comprehensive analysis of my closest friendships? At what point do my decisions become irrelevant? When does it just make more sense to follow the data?
It makes me wonder: Is there something that we experience in our lives, our universe, that transcends the superficial metrics of science and reaches into the realm of meaning? What might we miss in the rush to quantify our lives down to the millisecond? What gets lost when human beings are converted into data streams?
The determinism of big data is seductive, but is that really where we want to put our trust? Do we recognize all the moral assumptions that come with our technology? What will it mean for us to reclaim the wonder of our lives, rather than being remade in the image of the machine?