All photos: Janis Kaiser
Quantify thyself! What promise this new age of wearables has for all of us. Certainly, this contemporary version of the original Greek aphorism “know thyself” is fitting, for the original was allegedly inscribed onto the legendary Temple of Apollo to induce a heavy-with-meaning anxiety to all who sought counsel.
Ever since, the phrase has become an inspiration to all sorts of characters, ranging from the father of all self-improvement, Ralph Waldo Emerson, to shadier characters like Frederic Taylor and Michel Foucault. Today's "know thyself" is technology-infused, data-intense, and brought to you in the form of a growing deluge of apps.
All these apps guarantee that your collected data will provide needed support in all of life's matters, ranging from jogging routines, diet plans, menstrual cycle trackers, meditation timers, dream interpretation, and escaping zombies with fitness.
Unsure of what I could really accomplish, yet vaguely hoping to embark upon some sort of heroic digital Bukowskiism, I took the time to download a suite of select apps. The goal was to mold a liquid Berlin Saturday night out into a dry cluster of data, graphs, and stats: my blood alcohol level (I used BAC Calc), covered distance and steps (Nike Fuelband, Jawbone UP), my feelings (T2 Mood Tracker), financial expenses (Mint), my weight (rTracker), orgasm count (Nipple) and lastly, yes even my sleep (Sleep Cycle).
Early on in the evening, I decide to set about a civilized little stroll to a number of select Neukölln bars in order to later try my luck at the infamous Berghain nightclub's doormen and their opaque, Kafkaesque sense of justice. I wrap two swanky plastic bracelets around my fragile and aristocratic wrists, trying to overcome my distrust of any tight-gripping jewelry after being traumatized as a child from watching the movie Deadlock and its exploding heads.
Time: 10:15 PM
Heart rate: 36 BPM
Mood: confused, under pressure, tense
Financial expenses: 4.50 euro
Weight: 69 kilos
Blood alcohol content: 0000%
Orgasm count: 0
I have to admit, my heart rate of 36 confuses me a bit. Has the bartender of this small, charming, and wooden hangout laced my opulent gin and tonic with heroin? Granted, it may also have something to do with a certain inherent imprecision to an app that measures heart rate via a soft touch on my phone's camera. I'm nonetheless off to a confusing start into big data's vast universe.
MoodTracker may not be ideal for people prone to towards hyphochondria like I am. I escape into measuring my delicious dumplings and duck breast, while my three friends in the restaurant are still busy with a dessert which would be certain to cause every dietary app to explode out of frustration. My own 250 calorie meal, according to the estimate of the cook, should guard me well through my night.
Meanwhile, my FuelBand has calculated an obligatory day and night quote of 2000 steps if I'm to keep the delights of of Dr. To's Asia fusion menu within the limits of my calculated body mass index.
I could have gone further app- and food-wise, and recommend the urine test and the pseudo-defecation analysis of Stool Scanner for those who want to see their self quantified through to the finish. In the reader's best interest I decided to abstain from this rather shameless gadgetry, which I presume will remain the prerogative of a more hardcore quantified self crowd.
Instead, the restaurant's 90s rap inspires me to order another rum sour and to position my secret weapon for tonight: the conversation starter app Hypotheticals. It's a smart talk app, which for a change does not have to be fed with data, but is supposed to assist smartphone-fixated sociophobics suffering from a creeping degenerating of their social skills and turn them into bold and controversial small talkers.
Time: 11:55 PM
Heart rate: 100
Mood: awake, hopeful, restless
Financial expenses: 36 Euro
Weight: 70 kilos
Orgasm count: 0
We're leaving the place, a tad bit tipsy perhaps. By the way, I can't really recommend the WTF version Hypotheticals. Well, I could perhaps recommend it with the reservation of only using it in conversations with 14-year-old Red Bull addicts doing a nightly spin-the-bottle with psychopaths. One of the questions reads, “would you prefer your partner to be raped or to cheat on you?" Must have been a rather odd set of people programming this one.
Meanwhile, we're moving on to the next bar. I'm happy that the small walk through this crisp Neukölln spring night is moving me closer to fulfilling my self-imposed distance quota, which appears increasingly impossible to fulfill as the night moves on.
Checking my wristband with Motherboard Germany editor Max Hoppenstedt.
After two excellent Botucal-based Old Fashioned cocktails in the softly lit Tier bar, my phone rudely interrupts my onsetting alcohol-subsidized euphoria by reminding me that I have already overspent my lousy budget. Of course, I expertly ignore this reminder, but do remember to stop to log my expenses into this killjoy budget app.
Time: 3:35 AM
Heart rate: 85
Mood: optimistic, tense, certain
Financial expenses: ca. 70 Euro
Weight: 70 kilos
Orgasm count: 0
The quasi-religious atmosphere of shameful anxiety produced by Berghain's waiting line has brought my drunk back down to a pleasant tipsiness. The line appears to be moving particularly swiftly tonight due to its bouncers ruthlessly thinning out large swathes of the waiting public deemed unfit for the club's sophisticated and precisely understated cool. I guess this is what it takes to get named Berlin's "coolest club" by Rolling Stone.
I can't help thinking of another app I would have tried out, which only last year was pitched by some destitute start-up creative at a conference, but has since failed to materialize. The “How to Get into Berghain App” pays homage to the clubs mythical reputation, but it appears unlikely that smartphone-based consumer and style tips would be enough to pass by this place's expert bouncers.
Another option is to check out Cloak while waiting in line. This app is supposed to help you avoid neurotic exes, odd coworkers, regrettable one-night stands and so on by letting you know if they're nearby. Yeah, it's kinda sketchy.
In order to use it, I'm log into Foursquare, which used by a whopping three (!) of my Facebook contacts. None of them, of course, live in Germany, proud home of data paranoiacs.
I am meanwhile left to embrace the uncertainty of not knowing which regrettable acquaintance I may bump into in the course of the night—which by now has included a 30 minute wait in line, despite all of the bouncers' best efforts.
Time: 8.44 AM
Financial expenses: 120+ Euros
Weight: 68 kilos
Orgasm count: :(
At some point you gotta leave, I'm telling myself, unable to feign any further interest in how my friends are doing on Nike+ or how my distance score compares to theirs. I'm taking this taxi now. I'm babbling something about Turkish politics to the taxi driver, which was induced by the fierce Negronis and mai-tais Panorama Bar was serving.
For some obscure reason he lets me out in front of my door with joyful laughter. I decide to not think about the reason for this and throw myself into my warm bed while Berghain's Function One speakers are still booming in my head.
Even without setting the sleep tracking app, which I of course forget, I sink into the relaxing splendor of a deep and exhausted sleep. Luckily, the next hungover morning I am reminded of the evolution of my moods throughout the night:
See, what a great time! To me, the idea of a quantified self, as initially pitched by QS prophet Gary Wolf, appears to be the enthusiastic light side of a reality manically driven by an avant-garde cadre of bookkeepers types who want to box all of our lives into unquestioned and normalized values. Non-negligible amounts of Silicon Valley incubator capital has been flowing for some time to support exactly this.
This elaborate type of recording one's proper life may actually be a helpful tool for some people in some particular situations. My personal opinion is that quantifying yourself on a Saturday night in Berlin is relatively time-intensive and disproportionately self-obsessed.
And as the quantified self economy drives further automation of the collection process, it's going to spill over to the rest of our lives, including our drunken wandering about on a random weekend night. How about an implanted microchip to suit your raving routines? Now that's a scary thought.