Technological TMI

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Wanna know how many calories sex with the hubby, versus sex with the mailman, burns?

Over at Slate, Amanda Schaefer tried out a gadget that allowed her to incessantly track exactly how her body was responding to food and exercise. As if we weren’t self-absorbed and techno-obsessed enough. Those of us with low self esteem and border line OCD might do best to steer clear:

This week, I discovered how many calories I burn climbing stairs, riding trains, sleeping, and having sex. The data come courtesy of a plastic device called the bodybugg, which is currently strapped to the underside of my right arm, like an oversized ladybug about to nuzzle the armpit. The bodybugg is designed to measure the number of calories burned minute by minute over the course of a day, in order to help people lose weight (or gain—it’s apparently popular with bodybuilders).

Bodybugg is part of a new wave of personal monitoring gadgets that promise to track various aspects of our health, fitness, or risk of disease. Nike + iPod, for instance, uses sensors in sneakers to track a runner’s time, distance, and calories burned. An experimental alarm clock works with a headband that monitors sleep stages, promising to wake you up in a lighter phase so you feel less groggy. A specialty shirt, currently in clinical trials in Europe, is packed with sensors that monitor heart rate and breathing. A toilet now on the market in Japan tests urine streams for glucose, gathering data that could be used to monitor diabetes. These gadgets threaten to serve up more data than we know what to do with, not to mention make us ever more self-absorbed. But they also dangle the hope of better understanding and better health. What’s it like to spy on one’s own body 24/7? I decided to find out.

If you’ll read the entire piece (which I recommend. It fascinates with it’s horrible portent), you’ll see that Schaefer didn’t miss the connection between the narcissism inherent in a supposedly health-related trend and that in the minute-by-minute blogging of life’s minutae (“I just got off the A train and there’s a smell…”) so rife on the internet.

You know how I know this trend leads no where healthy? Cuz I want one. I want to buy it instead of a gym membership and use it to track my middle aged decline. I’d use it to beat myself up every five minutes all the way through a trencher of buffalo wings and a 4 hour Law and Order marathon. I’d say it was to motivate myself. Yup. That’s what I’d say.

The nanny state gets a bad rap: this sort of technology simply should only be available to mental health professionals. It’s potential to help in choosing between lovers is more than outweighed by the decline in the nation’s will to live.

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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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