Time: The Original "Quantified Self"

In Nicholas Carr's Pulitzer Prize-finalist book "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains," he refers to another book by David Landes called "Revolution in Time." Landes talks about how the history of timekeeping began to influence human behavior. Bells sounded to wake us up, to start work days, to open and close gates and markets, and many other things. As the costs of keeping time came down, the clock went personal. Everyone had one. This became, as Landes wrote, an "ever-visible, ever-audible companion and monitor." By reminding the watch or clock owner of time used and spent, it also intimated time lost, time that was now gone forever. This personalization of time, of precisely measured time, was both a boon to productivity and individual control, and a means of controlling how humans measured, and monitored themselves and others. It was, in essence, the very original version of "Quantified Self." Today quantified self is a movement we often associate with step counting FitBits and JawboneUps, Nike Fuel Bands and iPhone health apps telling us how much we've moved or sat on a daily basis. In "Technics and Civilization," a 1934 book on technology's impact on the human condition, author Lewis Mumford talked about how the clock "helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences." This change from abstract time to highly measured time, he argues, made the way for the opening of the more rigorous, scientific mind. Perhaps as we next look at our FitBit we can realize that this is nothing new.