Individuals (and, as we'll see, philosophers) are growing increasingly realistic about how limited their decision-making skills and resolve are. Moreover, we're not ashamed to
discuss these limits publicly. Some embrace networked, data-driven lives and are comfortable
volunteering embarrassing, real time information about what we're doing, whom we're doing it with, and how we feel about our monitored activities.
Put it all together and we can see that our conception of what it means to be human has become "design space." We're now Humanity 2.0, primed for optimization
through commercial upgrades. And today's apps are more harbinger than endpoint.
Consider, for example, GymPact, an iPhone app that combines GPS tracking and financial rewards/penalties to motivate people to go
the gym, is getting lots of attention. Fail to work out as regularly as you promised yourself, GymPact -- which has users register their geographical
location via a "check-in" button -- can be configured so that funds transfer to participants with better resolve.
Or take myfitnesspal, which is geared towards folks who prefer the
social networking route to exercise. My wife, Noreen, is thrilled with the ease by which it allows her and her iPhone-enabled sister to share caloric
intake, fitness regimes, and encouraging notes. Before eating, Noreen consults the food index to determine the calories per serving of a given option.
Having established a daily consumption goal, she can glance at the interface to check the number of calories she's already taken in and burned through
exercise. What once was a taxing decision about how to proceed has thus become a no brainer; the program takes all the guesswork out of knowing what to
do to maintain a healthy weight.
What about hotheads who can't resist sending flaming e-mails? There's an app for that, too! ToneCheck is the emotional analogue to a spell checking tool. Applying connotative intelligence
research, it "automatically detects the tone in your email" and, if a draft exceeds the threshold for negative emotions (e.g., anger or sadness), it
offers the author a warning that can prompt revision.
Then, there is StayFocused, a motivational tool for "giving your will power a break."
Like fitness, minimizing online distraction is a popular resolution. The Chrome extension allows users to designate blocked sites that they want to
limit their own access to. This self-imposed discipline resembles the strategy used by the mythical Odysseus who asked his crew to tie him to the mast
because he knew he lacked the willpower to avoid succumbing to the sirens' sweet but deadly songs. Similarly, folks who know they spend too much time
on Facebook and Twitter but succumb to the addiction anyway can self-police by virtually binding their own hands.
The final example is a variation of the Stayfocused theme, but worth mentioning in its own right because the name perfectly captures the time we're
living in. Freedom is a productivity app that eliminates distraction for periods ranging from one minute to
eight hours by disabling a computer's capacity for networking--cutting off Facebook, Twitter, online shopping, e-mail, instant messaging, et cetera.
That's right, freedom now means the willful use of technology to limit one's options!