HughPickens.com writes Natasha Singer reports at the NYT on a new generation of devices whose primary function is to prod people to change. This new category of nudging technology includes "hydration reminder" apps like Waterlogged that exhort people to increase their water consumption; the HAPIfork, a utensil that vibrates and turns on a light indicator when people eat too quickly; and Thync, "neurosignaling" headgear that delivers electrical pulses intended to energize or relax people. "There is this dumbing-down, which assumes people do not want the data, they just want the devices to help them," says Natasha Dow Schüll. "It is not really about self-knowledge anymore. It's the nurselike application of technology." While some self-zapping gizmos may resemble human cattle prods, other devices use more complex cues to encourage people to adopt new behavior. For example, the Muse, a brain-wave monitoring headband, is intended to help people understand their state of mind by playing different sounds depending on whether they are distracted or calm. "Based on what it registers, it plays loud, disruptive wind or waves lapping or, if you are supercalm and you maintain it for a while, you get calm, lovely noises of birds tweeting," says Schüll. "You do learn to calm your mind.
But do the new self-tracking and self-improvement technologies benefit people or just create more anxiety? An article published in The BMJ, a British medical journal, describes healthy people who use self-tracking apps as "young, asymptomatic, middle-class neurotics continuously monitoring their vital signs while they sleep." Dr. Des Spence argues that many health tracking apps encouraged healthy people to unnecessarily record their normal activities and vital signs — turning users into continuously self-monitoring "neurotics." Spence recommends people view these new technologies with skepticism. "The truth is that these apps and devices are untested and unscientific, and they will open the door of uncertainty," says Spence. "Make no mistake: Diagnostic uncertainty ignites extreme anxiety in people."
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