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Quantified body: We record every step we take, is it really to lose weight?
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Quantified body: We record every step we take, is it really to lose weight?

  • Time of issue:2021-08-13

Quantified body: We record every step we take, is it really to lose weight?

(Summary description)Nowadays, "the body is quantified" has become a common phenomenon: sleep statistics on smart bracelets, exercise steps statistics on mobile phones, exercise records in sports apps... These data surround us all the time, and we too Increasingly rely on these data.

For example, are you familiar with the scene in the picture?

  • Time of issue:2021-08-13

Nowadays, “the body is quantified” has become a common phenomenon: sleep statistics on smart bracelets, exercise steps statistics on mobile phones, sports APP's exercise records……These data surround us all the time, and we are increasingly relying on these data.

For example, are you familiar with the scene in the picture?


Quantified body


In a similar situation, it seems that “mother” has opened the eyes of the sky, but it is actually these data that expose us”. Algorithms and positioning systems quantify our body into a series of data, so that each of us has a trace to follow.

But modern people seem to be accustomed to being quantified again. Sometimes, if you forget to turn on calorie statistics, it’s like a white exercise; if you forget to turn on the sleep detection app, It seems that we have lost our insight into the physical condition of sleeping……We observe ourselves through data, and we also observe others.

The topic discussed in this issue of Quanmeipai (ID: quanmeipai) is the "body quantified by the new media". By enumerating the common "quantification phenomena" in daily life, we try to discuss with readers what is the essence of this phenomenon? Why do we feel that the degree of quantification of the body is gradually deepening?

The body as data

What is our body?

Biologists may tell us that the body is the physiological organization of humans or animals, and it is the organic carrier that constitutes our lives; sociologists may say that the body It is the subject of practice and the basic condition for our social activities.

With the development of smart media and wearable devices, our body has gradually begun to exist in a unique way, that is, "quantified as data Body”.

Nowadays, sleep data generated by the “sleep statistics” function in many smart watches is a vivid example of “quantify the body”.

By real-time monitoring of various indicators of the body during sleep, these smart watches will generate a "sleep quality inspection report", which not only records the individual’s Falling asleep and waking up events will also count the user's deep sleep duration and heart rate. As a result, our physical condition in sleep is presented by an intuitive data report.


Quantified body


Image source: Pipa’s mobile phone


Presumably everyone is familiar with the “Steps Ranking” in “WeChat Sports”, our daily walking steps are also“ "Physical quantification" is a performance. Since everyone basically stays on the machine, the statistics of the number of steps in the daily rankings reflect the amount of our body's daily exercise to a certain extent.


Quantified body

Image source: Paipai’s WeChat campaign


This ranking of steps is very simple, but it is very interesting in the context of social media. In order to strive to become the top athletes in the rankings, many people as long as they have the opportunity to walk, they must bring their mobile phones "increase the number of steps". Even some careful users have invented the trick to "manually increase the number of steps" by shaking the phone, thereby rounding up their steps into a whole number or a series of "Geely" numbers, and they are proud to be posted to the circle of friends.

Similarly, all kinds of sports apps have emerged one after another, making "no record not running" become a daily routine for many people.


Quantified body

Picture source: Papa’s sports screenshot


If in the above situation, "quantification of the body" is still a non-essential life spice, then during the epidemic, we have more real experience The importance of quantification.

For the needs of epidemic prevention and control, the health code has become a “passport” for people to travel. It records the physical locations our bodies have visited. It is also the main proof of whether we belong to the low-risk population of the epidemic at a certain moment. This form of "quantification" may not be the norm, but it does show that our body can be encoded by various data and then re-represented.


Quantified body


Nowadays, the health code will also use the "Golden Shield" to represent the new crown vaccine. Picture source: Papa’s health code

Quantified results: From cognition to anxiety

In fact, quantifying the body has always been a common way of self-recognition. Our height, weight, vision, including the blood sampling report obtained in the hospital, describe our physical condition in the form of data.

The essence of quantification is objectification. Specifically, although these data indicators are derived from our bodies and belong to the category of "subjective" or "self", when we present them with the help of quantitative data, they "escaped" from us. His body has become a "database about our body" and it exists externally.

Only in this way can human beings equate their body with the outside world, so that we can use them as objective objects and use modern scientific methods. Means to be recognized. However, at the moment we can clearly feel that this way of self-recognition is constantly deepening, and the body data it creates has penetrated into all aspects of our lives.

However, this penetration is mixed.

On the one hand, we now have more and more convenient access to more diverse body data. Portable media such as mobile phones and smart bracelets help us detect our bodies and generate real-time data all the time. The emergence of these smart media has broken the boundaries between the body and the measurement tool.

In the past, whether it was measuring height and weight or going to the hospital for a physical examination, it was equivalent to“we were looking for machines (such as rulers, scales, medical equipment, etc.) Measure yourself".

The emergence of smart media resets this process. It integrates a variety of "machines" and presses one to confirm Push the button, and the machine can continuously and automatically measure us.

The power of this measurement is not only the all-weather, automated recording, it also provides users with a basis for decision-making based on algorithms and guides our actions— —Just as, whenever our smart bracelet gives us the instruction of “It’s time to rest”“It’s time to exercise”, we will subconsciously believe its judgment and use the medium to understand our body more skillfully .


Quantified body


Paipai’s sports watch reminds me of various data about the body——I have been sitting for too long to write a manuscript and I need to be active.

But on the other hand, the anxiety of "data controlling the body" is also growing. Jinsha once tweeted that she brought a scale to eat for the sake of health. The topic of "Sands eating with scales" subsequently appeared on the hot search, causing netizens to sigh about the actor group's "weight anxiety".


Quantified body

Image source: Weibo@金莎


In fact, even ordinary people who have no rigid requirements for their body indicators, who can have the full confidence to claim that they don’t care about their physical data, but can ;Body anxiety”What about immunity?

Therefore, whether it is greater self-control or greater anxiety, people seem to have to face the fact that all kinds of data about the body have been Beginning with "anti-customer-oriented", it penetrated into daily life.

In the past, data such as height, weight, and medical reports are more like some objective rulers. "Stay" on the edge of our daily life, we You only need to meet occasionally with the "face-to-face" (for example, regular physical examinations, etc.) to satisfy your cognition of your body.

Now, more and more data indicators are busy analyzing our body from various angles, which dazzles us. What is even more worrying is that these data seem to be more real than our physical bodies, putting us in a situation where we cannot survive without data.

It can be seen that the main source of our anxiety at the moment is not this "self-recognition through quantification" method itself, because this method has already existed. In fact, there is some kind of external force that is pushing the body's quantification process, so that it is overwhelmed.

There are many such external forces, such as new media.

The new medium here refers not only to physical media such as mobile phones and wearable devices that can be touched and connected to the Internet in daily life, but also to a changing The new technological environment of human living conditions. The people in it interact with various new technologies and produce different perceptual experiences due to technological changes.

As McLuhan said, “Medium is the extension of the human body, and extension means cutting off. ”[1] When various smart media and social media design various indicators “explain” our body, we are less and less convinced and not good at understanding the body through our own perceptual senses. The data captured and integrated by the media has become a more convincing existence than the body itself.

So, what mechanism does the new medium use to deepen the quantification of the body?

A new medium logic to deepen body quantification

Portability and synchronization: the advantages of using new media

Smart media can deepen users’ knowledge of their bodies as never before. This is unquestionable now. However, the crux of the question is, what are the attractive qualities of smart media, so that users willingly trust and use it to understand their bodies?

In the new media, the immediacy and convenience of data collection and generation are the most intuitive reasons.

As mentioned above, the reason why smart media is “smart” lies primarily in its technical compatibility. It not only integrates a variety of measurement technologies, but also can be used as a "machine coat" that users carry with them to detect and produce real-time data anytime and anywhere. This is the selling point.

From the user’s point of view, this technical feature actually satisfies the user’s dual expectations for ease of use and synchronicity of feedback.

If we want to check our own sleep quality, even if the data provided by the smart bracelet is not as authoritative as the hospital physical examination data, its proximity and instant feedback Sex is something that no hospital can provide. Therefore, compared with professional inspections and assessments, the sleep statistics function in the smart bracelet has naturally become the first choice in daily life.


Quantified body

Even the headphone volume is recorded. Picture source: Pipa’s mobile phone screenshot


The empowerment of technology on the body is a tireless pursuit of human beings, and portability and synchronicity are the goals that many technology producers strive to achieve, and these two together constitute It is the "embodiment" imagination of human beings' use of technology.

This "incarnation" imagination is fully embodied in the image of "cyberman" in many science fiction novels: when various machines and The chip is embedded in the human body and becomes an organ of the human body, so the portability of technology use and the synchronicity of feedback are brought to a new level.

Therefore, when users experience the power of new media, there is no reason not to embrace them.

The alienation of self-discipline: the reverse control of the new medium

Intensifying self-understanding through body quantification is by no means the ultimate goal. Using these body data to guide practice is its more attractive ability.

This practice is most directly reflected in the self-management of the user’s physical health. Whether it is a sports APP on a mobile phone or a health management function on a smart device, “data collection—planning” is its core logic to attract users.

Take the sports APP as an example. According to the user’s physical data, formulating a corresponding exercise plan and recommending courses are already common features of most software. However, with the further development of smart media, various sports APPs have also opened a series of requirements that meet the "light physical exercise" under the pressure of modern life.

For example, many smart bracelets can already monitor the calorie consumption of the user at any time, including all the activities in their daily life, so that the user There is no need to deliberately spend time on traditional sports, and all kinds of daily activities can be included in the category of "sports".


Quantified body

Image source: provided by the official account


However, the user’s self-discipline seems to be a manifestation of subjective initiative, but it is difficult to get rid of the reverse control of the media. Because when users use the media to plan their own actions, the scope of their actions is always framed by the media. The various indicators that users measure themselves and the decision-making actions made by the media are all given by the media.

In other words, the user’s self-discipline will be satisfied through the context provided by the medium. This is not difficult to explain. Even if we do not conduct specialized sports training, as long as we see the number of walking steps and calorie consumption that "reach the standard" on the sports software, we will be satisfied with a sense of self-discipline.

The intelligent medium has deepened the quantification of the human body in this subtle way. The medium is like a transparent container, and the actors living in it always accept the concepts constructed by the medium without hesitation—for example, sports indicators and health indicators are actually the products of intelligent algorithms—but it is precisely This kind of acceptance of peace of mind allows our bodies to swim like fish in the "medium tank".

Social and performance: The interactive value of private data

Sociality is an important metric that cannot be ignored when analyzing any smart medium. When body data is on the social media network, private data has social significance.

A phenomenon is that our exercise data seems to be only published in social media in order to truly satisfy the social demands of modern people through physical exercise. We share our running trajectory and praise each other's steps in WeChat sports. It is not only a self-exhibition, but also an important means to maintain daily contact.


Like your WeChat step count, which proves that I care about you silently.

Bourdieu believes that as a kind of social practice activity, if you want to place it in the social field to harvest the individual’s cultural capital, then it must After the show, I was seen by others. [2]

Therefore, physical data plays a symbolic capital in the field of social media. Individuals can use this to a certain extent by performing their own physical data. One symbol shows one's positive life posture and presents a healthy lifestyle.

From this perspective, the sociality of smart media is a powerful driving force for deepening the degree of physical quantification. Because of the needs of social interaction and performance, individuals have broken through the "self-rewarding of loneliness" of their own body data, and made personal data public as social currency, constructing a body performance ritual.

Quantification is inevitable, more reflection and questioning

Smart media are quantifying our bodies as data fragments at an unprecedented level, and this trend seems inevitable. But as analyzed in the previous article, a large part of the reason why smart media can quantify our bodies so quickly is that media users trust the data they provide without thinking, and actively cater to their existing functions and preferences.

So, in the face of overwhelming media logic, we might as well ask more questions, such as: Can body data really accurately represent our bodies? Why it seems that besides the way of data, we rarely have other forms to represent the body at the moment? Are the indicators given by smart media about our bodies truly impeccable?hit? The data on the mobile phone exceeds the so-called "stress value" to deliberately suppress one's emotions. Is it really good for your health?

All kinds of questions, the more the better. The power of the media is that its pre-set biases (such as smart media algorithms, social biases, etc.) and the phenomena created through these biases (such as physical data, check-in behavior) are often treated as objective things by us. Accept it, and few people ask the basis of existence behind it.

When we are aware of the importance of the “quantified body” phenomenon and try to reflect on this phenomenon, it may mean that we Is trying to face the strong new media logic with a sober attitude.

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