I’m a QS organizer who’s relatively new to the movement (or whatever we are) and I’ve got a kind of big-picture concern I wanted to float here.
Most of the criticisms I’ve read of QS don’t bother me. Crazy nerds, narcissists, gadget freaks – bring it on : ). The only one that really stings is (I’ll paraphrase) “These people are just falling for a series of gimmicky products that they don’t stick with, either because the products don’t work as well as advertised or they just don’t have the discipline. Like most self-improvement fads, it’s resulting in very little actual self-improvement.”
From this perspective, the median QS member is someone who says “OK, I’m getting a Zeo and I’m gonna optimize my sleep quality!” After a month they realize what common sense could have told them: they sleep better when they avoid alcohol or caffeine, don’t drastically shift their sleep hours every weekend, turn off the computer in the evenings, etc. But actually changing those habits is too hard, and continuing to use the Zeo is just a depressing reminder of their failure, and so they move on: “I’m gonna start using Evernote and optimize my productivity!” Similar story, and a month later it’s emotion tracking, and so on.
At the end of a year they’ve spent a lot of money and time and have all these gadgets sitting on the shelf, and all these unused apps on their phone, and they’re no better off than when they started.
I realize that many QS members, especially those on these forums, are not in this category, and have made positive and permanent changes to their lives with the help of self-tracking. I also realize that some of us are interested in QS on a philosophical, aesthetic or self-discovery level, not just as a motivational or self-improvement tool. But if the median QSer is more like the above, then to me that’s pretty disturbing.
And how would we even know? Because to an external observer, that person is probably a huge QS adherent, who’s online gushing about every app and gadget during the first week they’re using it, and never comes back to say “oh yeah, it never did much for me in the end.” But what’s really disturbing is that, for many QS companies, they’re also a pretty good customer. Not many will ever ask for a refund on the gadgets, and some will let their paid subscriptions run on the apps long after they’ve stopped using them. They may even continue to recommend the products, since they see the failing as their own willpower rather than the product itself.
I think that pattern is why many people get a sleazy vibe from the self-help industry in general, and I would hate for them to start getting that same vibe from us.
I realize it’s inevitable that as QS grows, it will lose some of its quirky amateur character and become partly a marketing channel for QS-related startups. But we can at least try to impose some ethical standards on the companies that are benefiting from all our volunteer organizing and promotion. Demands for data portability and privacy are a great example of that.
So I would propose that another positive thing to encourage would be aggregate disclosure, where applicable, of actual use and actual results. I realize this doesn’t apply to every product, but any kind of gadget or app that collects your data, stores it in the cloud, and gives it back to you in custom graphs and charts, could very easily disclose things like:
what percentage of new users are still using the product a month later? three months later? how frequently are they using it?
when the relevant measurements have an unambiguous standard of improvement, what percentage of those users are improving? for example, on a wifi scale, what’s happening to the average user’s BMI over time?
I realize this flies in the face of both the culture of secrecy around startups and the general practice of marketing. But so what? Why can’t we have a norm of acclaim for companies that answer these questions and suspicion for companies that don’t, just like the norm that’s already developing around companies that let you download your data as a CSV vs. those that hold it hostage?
Anyway this is really still just a half-formed thought, but it’s been bugging me for a while and I would love to get some other people’s thoughts on it.