Harpo and I have been having lots of conversations about quantification of a ‘walking as making’ practice. Post Appalachian Trail, my artistic methodology has taken another right turn away from making discreet objects and towards self validating activities – especially human powered traversal of topographies. Not that I ever had a particularly cogent (or profitable) way of making commodified art objects – I’ve always tried to make freely available images and events that present the lowest possible bar to inclusion, while still retaining critical integrity (read: not treating people like idiots because they don’t have an art school vocabulary). My work with Free Sheep Foundation and New Mystics points to these excursions, as do the number of murals I have either self funded or secured public funding for by partnering with public agencies.
This type of work almost always results in an object or event, and within this paradigm it is easy to ascribe meaning and assess value. With physical objects, the value is based on the rarity, difficulty and expense of production (as well as the accompanying certificate of authenticity). Events are measured by the community involved, and the social resonance produced – either through press, rumor, gossip, or fame (in the form of images, likes, tweets, etc.) So how does one measure the value meditative traversals, ambulation, and aimless wandering?
Enter Misfit Shine – a small black device made of machine aluminum that promised to tell me everything I wanted to know about how I moved, how often, and even how well I was sleeping. The Shine seemed to be a good choice – it digitally interfaced with my iPhone via a free app, was lightweight, operated on a single lithium watch battery (which meant it doesn’t need charging), was sleek, and got great review on every forum I checked. It’s true – the Shine did have good dialogue with my phone.. they exchanged numbers, as it were.
What these numbers meant was unclear. Having never owned a pedometer, and always borrowing Harpo’s watch when I went running, I though it would be novel actually record and quantify what had previously been a time of unmitigated, unmediated play. I thought I could create a data set to validate my peregrinations – but that proved a false god. While the data seemed accurate for walking and hiking, it was wildly inaccurate when recording cycling data. I don’t have much of a means of comparison for running, since it’s always been a durational, rather than distance based practice for me. But overall, I felt the algorithms were more geared towards creating incentives for looking at my phone, rather than actually exercising.
The problem was less with Shine though, and more with my mindset…
In looking for external validation for my abstract, emotionally driven movements I found using the Shine to be deeply problematic. In attempting record and concretize my activity I found myself trying to push further and faster, while being less engaged in enjoying the activity. My attention was half involved in representing my immediate experience, drawing me away from it. Not to mention the invitation of screen mediation into otherwise purely physical practices.
To be honest, many of these thoughts occurred because of a number of accidents that happened in procuring the Shine. Before I even received the Shine I broke my phone – which meant I was totally aware of how much I needed one device to activate the other – meaning I was tied to TWO devices. And, almost a week after fixing my phone and using the Shine, it fell off my sock when cycling (riding an oft travelled track of about 40 miles – so I already knew the duration and distance). Losing the Shine caused me deep anxiety for a moment – I realized I had lost it at about the halfway point in the ride, so was the second half of my ride pointless because I couldn’t record the data? Also, that’s an expensive little throwaway…
So, I vote against activity trackers. They further distance us from the inherently enjoyable acts of running, walking, hiking and cycling by inserting another mediating device between us and our immediate lives – reminding us alway we could be better, when actually we’re all great right fucking now, thank you.
The Shine meets or exceeds all of the advertised functions – including being lightweight, sleek, and easy to interface with a smartphone – but it’s still basically a voluntary ankle bracelet.