First it was steps … I counted them religiously, often falling short of my goal. Then came sleep. Measuring that was such a failure it could be considered a nightmare. My gait, my posture — the ways technology finds to tell me I’m inadequate seem nearly limitless.
But lately it’s getting ultra-personal. And it’s a worse confidence buster than the bathroom scale. It’s all about measuring what I say, how I say it and how well you like it. A few weeks ago I wrote about Immersion Neuroscience, a company that says that they can infer your brain’s engagement with a piece of content just by monitoring your smartwatch. This week I put it to the test. I ran a meetup, and then asked Paul Zak, the company’s CEO and chief neuroscientist, how engaged my audience was. What his software told me was that they really were not that engaged.
Other tools I’ve been playing with as I struggle to get better at speaking “Video-ese” ( the lingua franca of our modern world) are bumping my ego down a notch. A service called TypeStudio ingests hours of video, translates the video (in near real-time) into text. It basically let’s me edit video as if it was a Word document. So I get to read how I speak. The tool is great; the experience is painful. The translation exposes every flaw in speaking style — from interrupting another speaker, to going off on a wild tangent, to grasping for words. I’m in awe of anyone who can speak and have the resulting translation seem coherent.
Another knife to the ego is a program called Clipr. Clipr, like Typeform, ingests your video and translates it to words, but then puts AI to work. The AI actually identifies topics, sub-topics keywords and other insights into your videos. It was created to make cutting up and sharing the best parts of video quick and easy. Finally I have digital proof that 20 minutes of talking could be distilled into a 2 minutes of video.
And so it goes, the cycle of tech-driven self loathing. Amazon’s recent Halo wristband not only measures your sleep, heartrate and steps but also how your voice sounds to others. Friends who have tried it say that last feature alone made them stop using it. You buy a tool to learn to do something better. It exposes your flaws, making you feel terrible about yourself. Then you emerge and start thinking that maybe it’s the tool shoe-horning your message that’s the problem.
Will tools like these improve a speaker’s ability to deliver? Will it further homogenize conversation? Or maybe what seem like flaws and failures are just the way things go for us humans. In the Jewish lore, there’s a story of Rabbi Hillel, who was challenged to recite the entire scripture of the Torah while standing on one foot. “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” he said. “That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it!” But how less rich the world would be without the commentary!