On the origins of ‘The Unexamined Life’

In conversation with my dad yesterday he mentioned that he didn’t know where the phrase “The Unexamined Life,” came from but he was sure it was deep.  Come to that, I didn’t know where it came from, so I decided to make sure I had cribbed it from someplace cool.

And I did! Here it is, in Apology, Plato’s account of the trial of Socrates.

“Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say that the greatest good of a man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living — that you are still less likely to believe.”

It’s shocking to me that I managed to snatch this one right out of the air, because I would have told you I spent my sophomore year in Philosophy class doing a crossword puzzle and seething about being surrounded by moonbats.  Evidently somewhere along the line I did the reading.

So here’s an odd list.

Things about which Socrates and I agree:

  •  Being a smartass is a divine command.

Things about which Socrates and I disagree:

  • That you need to examine every aspect of your life in order to make it worth living.

And in the great spirit of philosophy classes everywhere, I leave you with the following essay question:

What would Socrates – advocate of the examined life- have thought of wearable technology?

The Blerch, Wearable Tech and Me

Hard to believe that it’s already been a few weeks since the world first glimpsed the Apple Watch.  I had the distinct advantage over much of the consumer populace during that announcement because I have already completely converted my entire mobile chain of command (Tablet, Phone, Camera, and yes, a Gear) to Samsung products.  Much as I might be tempted, there’s no reason for me to purchase this impressive new timepiece.

The iWatch renewed my interest in the wearable tech market.  Or more accurately, the rise of the wearable tech market and the impending demise of the unexamined life.  Before I delve too deeply into that, though, here’s some background.

A week ago I ran my second half marathon, a race called Beat the Blerch.  A year ago- almost to this exact day- I started running.  It’s really  easy for me to tell you the exact day because I started running using an App called “Couch-to-5K.” .  The app integrated GPS, music, and an audio coach with what I now understand to be a well phased training plan.  It delivers exactly what it promises- it took me from being a complete running-hating non-runner to finishing a 5k in 30 minutes.  It did this in 9 weeks, but well before that it had turned me into a ravening running fan.  I had signed up for a half marathon before I’d even reached week 6.

A couple of times the app lost my run.  No data? No mileage? No average speed? It was like the run hadn’t happened. Another couple of times I did the run using a different phone.  The app had no cloud behind it in which to save data.  That meant there were orphaned runs that were not being tabulated into the whole.  Panic struck . Spreadsheets were created.  A second running app was downloaded to merge the spreadsheets.  But that one reckoned time and distance differently because it didn’t include warm up and cool down as separate from the run.

It was about here that  wearables started proliferating.  I needed a single source of truth for my data, one that didn’t vary with the phone I was carrying.  I needed to stop my earplugs from bouncing out of my ears.  I needed to make sure that the mileage was properly recorded in my IBM-funded Fitbit..  Sometimes I wanted to take pictures if I was on a particularly scenic (or taxing) run.  So on a typical outing here’s what had to be suited up before I could leave.

1) Phone, because it contained my music and my training plan.

2) Bluetooth headset, because the armband for my phone swung too far away from my body and yanked out my earplugs.  Also, I like to be able to change songs.

3) Garmin 610 GPS watch, newly acquired during a doorbuster sale the day after Thanksgiving.  There was a heart monitor I could have worn that came bundled with the garmin that I remember absolutely requiring and haven’t used once.

4) Fitbit.

5) My samsung gear.  Because I found it confusing to have watches on each wrist, the gear and the GPS would be next to each other on my left arm, a fashion statement no one has signed off on since the end of the Swatch fad in the 80’s.

I was a christmas tree of wearable tech.  None of this prep included things like sunscreen, camelbak backpack, my inhaler or my house key.  As things got more intense during the training for the half, I had to add mid-run electolytes and caffeine.  So the suit up phase could last for up to 20 minutes while I found all of the various elements needed to properly facilitate, soundtrack and record the use of my own legs.

The rise of the wearables is being facilitated by our addiction to data.  As with most addictions, the onramp seems worth it until we find the downside.  A couple of days ago I came across this article in The Suit .  The article discusses the potential dangers of having employees bringing networked devices into the workplace, which is a variant on the current thinking around BYOD.  But the kicker sentence is right here:

From an administrator’s point of view, a business can monitor and track employees through their use of wearable tech

As I mentioned earlier, the fitbit I was wearing during my christmas tree days was an IBM-funded device.  As part of our personal vitality rebate, we had the option of having IBM provide us a fitbit, then linking the fitbit account to a third-party wellness program.  This saved us the trouble of having to manually log our activities, and also gamified the process of leaving our desks by providing points for different levels of activity.  These points were redeemable for Amazon rewards.

I am ambivalent at best about my employer being able to read my activity data.  I went into the program knowing that I was training for a half marathon and was therefore going to shatter whatever bar was set for the game.  My  fitbit fell off my wrist while I wandered around the expo floor of SXSW – which I now realize was the fitbit equivalent of running away to join the circus- and therefore never got to redeem any of my accrued points.  But there’s a balance here that we need to contemplate.

1) Is it a good thing that we can no longer work out without data-driven feedback?

2) Does our employer have any place whatsoever in that data?


If we accrue too many points in one day, are we spending too much time away from our desks? If we spend no time away from our desks, are we then a health insurance risk?  To me this seems like a door we need to be very deliberate about opening, as it will be very difficult to close again.

P.S. Wearable tech skepticism be damned,  I saw this at SXSW and raved about it then:  “Ring,”  should be the standard for design of these devices going forward. [Buy one.  I mean be careful and everything, but Buy One.]

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South BY Southwest, Inside-Outside-Upside-Down

I am behind on my SXSW blogging, to the point where I’m pretty sure there’s going to be no one definitive blog.  What I did get was a set of topics on which I want to blog, so I’ll be publishing the fruit of SXSW for some time, even if there’s no blow-by-blow rundown of what I did, what I ate, what I bought, who I met, and archive of collected swag.  What I am doing instead is publishing links to my collective storify synopses, but I’ll lead off with a few general observations  before sending you off to into the minutae.

What was startling about SXSW from the get-go is how effectively it turns all of downtown Austin into Terminal D of the DFW airport.  Everyone is squatting around on the floor, competing for plugs, waiting for the doors to open up and get their badges scanned in a manner  evocative of lining up at an airport gate.  In spite of the amount of personal contact you have with the low-pile carpet in the Austin Convention center, it’s not entirely unpleasant.  Within the airport-esque bubble there’s some seriously magical stuff going on.  Company sponsored airport lounges, like the one set up by Nest and full-size pop up ads like this one for A&E’s Bates Motel serve to reinforce the idea that your reality has been altered, albeit only in a very specific geography.

The Nest Your Home Away from HomeDon't Park Here

Next year, when people pitch their theories for what IBM should do at SXSW, and they include things like handing out grilled cheese sandwiches on the street using a squadron of teenagers on stilts, it’ll seem just slightly less like someone bumped their head than it did before.  At least with respect to the grilled cheese sandwiches, the question is “didn’t someone do something just like that last year?”

South By Southwest, Analyses and Day-By-Day, oddly intertwined.

1) Outside the Expo, iPhones are OUT. Inside the expo, iPhone is king.
Samsung was everywhere, handing out batteries and generally kicking ass. And while this is a data set of one Google-owned company, there weren’t recharge plugs available for iphones in Nest’s hangout.  On the other hand, there were companies in the expo center who were so exclusively iphone-focused as to be somewhat alarming [Really, Olloclip? Really?] The rate at which they adapt to the changing demographics of Android that going to determine the viability of anyone making a phone accessory.  Just plain ignoring it is just plain embarassing.

Storify Day One: Where, how, and with whom I rolled.

2) Wearables.
Are you making a wearable device? Are you Samsung? Or Shaq? Meet the standard by which you will be judged.
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 Storify Day Two: Rollin’, part two.

3)  Things people want to print out: pictures.  Things people still can’t quite grok: 3D printing.
At least two of the lounges I saw, and at least two vendors in the expo, were offering digital-turned-paper pictures. It seems we want the bulk of our pictures digitized, but if the paper is instantaneous, we’ll take that too.  Whomever owns the Poloroid brand name, take note.

3D Printing was still a big presence, but it’s clear we’re struggling with what precisely to do with it commercially.  The most popular item I saw was fake google glass printouts – meaning someone had printed a plastic faker google glass arm.  What does it mean when someone wants to pretend to be a glasshole?

 Day Three: Walking the Trade Show

4) Social media isn’t fun anymore.  It has much more to do now with analyzing the motivations of who’s socializing and scoping out who isn’t.

One of the two panels I got shut out of was on Social Media Analytics, and the best-attended (and most mindblowing one) that I got into was on “What Social Media Analytics Can’t Tell You.”  The idea of social media content and strategy  being simply a question of acquiring followers and blurting out one sided announcements is so done so as to be laughable.  Now not only do you have to mine who’s talking, you need to understand that you’re probably only getting active responses from 32% of the people who are actually looking.  Lurkers and how to enfranchise them is the next big question.

I was proud of IBM’s presence in this area, starting with the #socialbizshakeup event at the W and then onto the personality trait analysis available in the expo.

I’m not clear I’m ready to take this unswerving a  look in the mirror of my own tweets, but knowledge is power.  We also managed to party! On more than one occasion! And only one time was a jazz combo involved.

Day Four: Sold Out Sessions and Werewolves

5) Evernote + 3M, sitting in a tree.  K-i-s-s-i-n-g.
Between this Secret and this booth, featuring  giveaways of Evernote premium…Consider this my first acquisition crystal ball shot call of 2014.

Day Five: Livetweeting for my LIFE

That is all the news I thought to write down, intermixed with my days [and nights] of SXSW 2014.  Enjoy.