Behaviourism, productivity & the ‘quantified self’

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Steven Poole, in the New Statesman, on “How the craze for Apple Watches, Fitbits and other wearable tech devices revives the old and discredited science of behaviourism“:

Arguably, this authoritarian strand of behaviourist thinking is what morphed into the subtly reinforcing “choice architecture” of nudge politics, which seeks gently to compel citizens to do the right thing (eat healthy foods, sign up for pension plans) by altering the ways in which such alternatives are presented.

By contrast, the Apple Watch, the Pavlok and their ilk revive a behaviourism evacuated of all social concern and designed solely to optimise the individual customer. By ­using such devices, we voluntarily offer ourselves up to a denial of our voluntary selves, becoming atomised lab rats, to be manipulated electronically through the corporate cloud. It is perhaps no surprise that when the founder of American behaviourism, John B Watson, left academia in 1920, he went into a field that would come to profit very handsomely indeed from his skills of manipulation – advertising. Today’s neo-behaviourist technologies promise to usher in a world that is one giant Skinner Box in its own right: a world where thinking just gets in the way, and we all mechanically press levers for food pellets.

Echoes a common trope of theorising “subjectiv(is)ation” as a process (often labelled “neoliberal”, for good value) that gets done to a being/person… which gets entangled in an all-encompassing ‘labour theory of value’ but that’s a longer discussion…

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