Resisting Emplotment- We Will Not Put You In A Box

QS15 Retrospective

In a vast pavilion surrounded by the San Francisco bay, filled with chairs of cardboard, and narrated by a tweet-painting robot, a horde of thinkers realized serendipity in a sea of data exchange. Ravi and I were fortunate to attend the Quantified Self conference these past few days. As we steep all the information we took in, I'd like to share one of my favorite conversations in QS that was continued at the conference.

Resisting Emplotment

In a Friday morning plenary, Dawn Nafus and Anne Wright revealed temporary tattoos that read "resisting emplotment". The newly coined phrase is a reaction to a pigeonholing approach to interpreting personal data. In particular, people with ailments are often presented with a narrative (plot) of how their life will progress: what will happen if they continue eating gluten, how long they have before renal failure, and so on. This "emplotment" is typically derived from population norms. Although statistics provides important heuristics for disease state, norms are often not the most important story, and can rebuff even a large contingency of a distribution.

Resisting Emplotment in Mental Health

In mental health, "resisting emplotment" is particularly important- we cannot treat our minds with cookie cutters, nor can we impose global benchmarks to determine a degree of mental wellbeing. Therefore we have a responsibility to convey a personalized medicine approach to therapy and shred "normal" from our vernacular.

Resisting Emplotment through Personalized Interventions

Vinod Khosla predicted in his expo discussion that the natural evolution of QS leads to not only tracking personal data, but aggregating it into actionable behavioral insights. This approach is a clear step away from workflows that sample data and provide a normative diagnosis. I'm excited to see products arise from nuanced, individualized interpretation of data, and to contribute to the bleeding edge of this movement.