The Measure of a Man in the Digital Age

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About John C. Havens

John C. Havens is Founder of the H(app)athon Project, an initiative that utilizes emerging technology to improve human-well being and drive positive social change. He’s also a contributing writer for Mashable and author of, H(app)y – The Value of Well-Being in a Digital Economy (Tarcher/Penguin, 2014).

Comments

  1. Wow! What a great and challenging piece. Loved the way you ended it. Great question to ask ourselves.
    There is so much I don’t know about all this tech stuff, but I’m open to learning. You’ve give me some excellent starting points. Much appreciated. Cheers!
    Bruce

  2. My pleasure, Bruce. Glad you enjoyed it!

    JCH

  3. Well, I expected a different article than what I found. It seems to be more about how the Corporatocracy is continuing to violate basic human rights and our inability to stop them…except to stop buying their crap. I will never again carry a smart phone (or even own one, for that matter). I don’t shop in dept. stores anymore b/c I won’t support slave labor. I don’t announce over insecure networks my activities and thoughts and would love to encrypt EVERYTHING I do online except that my friends aren’t up to speed YET.
    But my question is, accountable to whom? And why should I be accountable to ANYone except for a few specific people with whom I share contracts with? Are you saying that I should be technologically shamed into compliance with religiously dictated standards about viewing nude peoples’ pics? I’m not quite clear about what you are saying.

    • Hi Clark,

      Thanks for the comments. And no, I would never want you to feel shamed. To your point, the intimacy of accountability is up to you or any individual – meaning, those people who you want to share it with. What freaks me out is how things like google maps or other technologies don’t give me the option to decide how or when I’d like to be measured, tracked, observed or whatever. For instance, my house (and I’m sure yours) is easily viewable on google maps. Me or my kids may not be in the picture, but it feels like an invasion of privacy. So one big part of what I meant to do with this article was not to frustrate you or anyone else but point out how prevalent these types of tracking behaviors have gone, whether you or I carry a smart phone or even go online (eg Google Maps).

      To that extent, I did intend the piece to be a caveat of sorts to say that if people (mainly who use social networks a lot to build their influence by things like comments on twitter, etc) think their influence or appeal is just about their words in this framework of technology, that’s not really true anymore. GPS, etc, can ‘betray’ where you’ve gone even if you’ve said you went somewhere else. In this sense, I’m not trying to judge/direct you or anyone else – it’s simply a fact. Just like in real life, we could say we’re calling someone from work but we’re actually at the movies. But the tech will make it harder for those types of behaviors to work anymore. So the cultural craziness we’re going to face will be huge.

      Lastly then, what I was trying to say is within this framework, a guy can choose to recognize the (potentially inevitable) ubiquity of technology and use it as a tool when he (as an individual) chooses to track or optimize his behavior. That’s what the whole Quantified Self movement is about. Right now people are optimizing mainly be exercising, eating better, etc, which is great. Soon I think it will evolve to things like the driving example I mentioned above. While I wouldn’t hold you or any other guy accountable for personal choices about what you watch, do, who you marry/date, etc, I would certainly be pissed if I could automatically see by an app that you/anyone else frequently drove recklessly and endangered people’s lives.

      Anyway, really long answer and I hope I helped. But I appreciate your reading the piece and leaving a comment. Very helpful as I continue to think on these subjects.

      Cheers,
      JCH

  4. Hamid Farzaneh says:

    John,

    Very thoughtful piece. Thank you! Privacy and personal freedom are at risk of continued erosion, mainly because we surrender bit by bit in exchange for the convenience we enjoy from technology. Given the sneaky nature of technology progress, how do we effectively avoid the “slowly boiling frog” syndrom? I don’t have an answer to that but while I am pessimistic about the natural laziness of human being, history shows us many examples of successful resistance that at first was viewed as hopeless and futile. In sum, I am pessimistically optimistic…

  5. It seems to me that the real issue is who does the measuring. We’re not measuring each other or ourselves with invasive technologies — though the door might be open to such a thing at some point, surely. As of this moment, as I see it, “man is [still] the measure of all things,” with respect to interpersonal skills and personal reflection. What is really revealed here is the growing power differential between corporations and persons — a differential that continues to frighten me.

    At the same time, tracking people’s interests is nothing particularly new, conceptually. We see innovations that allow for more targeted information gathering and dissemination, but it’s still, fundamentally, marketing that is at issue. (And given that, the relationship between aggregated data and individuals is complicated, and increasing in its complication as technology marches forward. But that’s another topic entirely….)

    Provocative post. Well done.

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