Data Driven Parenting

There’s a new religion in town. Data collection. And unlike mainstream Protestantism, the number of adherents is growing rapidly.

In the Atlantic, Mya Frazier asks whether statistical analytics make for healthier, happier babies—or more anxious adults.

The answer Mya is more anxious adults. The data driven gospel continues to gain momentum and data skeptics like me are getting our asses whupped. As a fraternity brother said to John Belushi in one of the best movies ever made in Eugene, Oregon, “The war is over man.

Frazier writes:

THE DAY THEIR SON was born, Monica Rogati and her husband began obsessively plotting his life via thousands of bits of data they punched into the smartphone app Baby Connect. They called the data “baby I/O,” a reference to the computing expression input/output and the kind of “geeky joke,” as Rogati puts it, that you might expect from a pair of professional data crunchers with doctorates from Carnegie Mellon. With the baby’s feedings (input), diapers (output), sleep sessions, and other accomplishments duly registered, he generated 300 data points each month.

This may sound like a lot of information for a very small person, but it’s typical grist for apps designed to tally a baby’s every blink and burp and sniffle, in hopes of charting his development over time. Among Baby Connect’s competitors are Total Baby, Baby Log, iBabyLog, Evoz, and the new Bedtime app from Johnson’s Baby, as well as Web-based programs such as Trixie Tracker (which an enterprising stay-at-home dad named after his daughter). Since Baby Connect launched, in 2009, Rogati and 100,000 other users have logged 47 million “events,” including 10 million diaper changes (with annotations in exacting and unmentionable detail).

The goal of these apps is to make parenthood “a more quantifiable, science-based endeavor.” The statistical analytics or “crowdsourcing” will provide an early-warning system to help parents determine what is and isn’t out of the ordinary: “He’s in the 50th percentile, he is perfectly normal.” Or “This is in the 99.9th percentile. Maybe this is not normal.” It will be a way, Monica Rogati says, “to debug your baby for problems.”

Yikes, as they’re studying the spreadsheets, crawl kid! As fast as you can.

Well wait, before criticizing these apps, I have to confess, I’m a hypocrite. I like me some fitness data. I wear a watch that reads satellites so I know how far I’ve run, my time for every mile, how much elevation I’ve gained, and approximately how many calories I’ve burned. Despite my interest in some data that the Rogatis might find overkill, these baby apps strike me as super-superfluous. I understand parents want to know “what’s normal”, but that’s where conversation with grandparents, friends, and written references has served us well through the centuries.

Are the Rogatis leading us down a path to being more smart-phone dependent, and thereby, less likely to lean on family and friends? Is the passing down of wisdom from grandparent to parent passe´? Are we officially throwing in the towel on interpersonal conversation and community? And this classic?

I should probably just zip it and step to the side so I don’t get trampled upon as the masses storm the iTunes store for the latest and greatest app.

What is the world coming to?

App Review—Zite Personalized Magazine—Algorithms Ain’t All They’re Cracked Up to Be

When I first met the Zite Personalized Magazine App I was totally infatuated. She was a total looker, great interface, and totally customizable. Our first dates were fantastic. We created structure by selecting several newspaper “sections” including: architecture, arts & culture, automotive, business & investing, film & tv, food & cooking, gadgets, health& exercise, mac news, personal finance, philosophy & spirituality, and sports.

Then we settled into a nice daily rhythm of just hanging out and reading. When I read an article on Steve Jobs, she asked me if I’d like more like it. “Yes,” I answered. Always so selfless, when I read a Sports Illustrated article on recruiting controversies at the University of Oregon she asked if I’d like more articles from Sports Illustrated (yes), about the University of Oregon (no), and NCAA recruiting (no). So inquisitive, and such a patient listener, she totally “got me” in very short order.

But now we’ve plateaued, maybe even started to drift apart a bit, and I’m not sure how to get the lovin’ feeling back. The problem is, with all her fancy pants algorithms, she’s gone overboard in personalizing my homepage. Nevermind what’s happening in Iran, Syria, or Putin’s Russia, my home page is filled with stories about Apple computer, college sports, and, not sure where she got this, Prince Harry partying in Belize.

As you know, whether we answer “did you like” inquiries or not, algorithm-based highly personalized internet suggestions and marketing are the future. iTunes and Netflix tells us what music and movies we’d like based each of our choices. Same with Amazon. At Amazon and other commercial sites we don’t even have to make purchases. Big Commercial Brother tracks our internet surfing and then creates personalized suggestions and ads.

“Free” customizable newspaper apps shouldn’t be as controversial should they? It’s a real time saver not having to sift through less interesting stories. Right? The problem is the end result—hyperpersonalized newspapers that make it less likely we’ll stumble upon interesting, quirky, challenging stories that stretch us. Spontaneity is sexy, endlessly staring into a mirror is not. We already live in economically and racially segregated neighborhoods, we watch television that affirms our political biases, and we attend churches and recreate with people that look like us.

Where are the diverse neighborhoods, schools, churches, and public places where people can begin learning how to get along with people different than them? People who are richer or poorer, people from across the political spectrum, people who are and aren’t religious. And where are the internet apps and websites where people’s thinking is challenged, nourished, deepened?

Another article on my Zite homepage today is titled, “The Gray Divorcés” which is about the increasing percentage of 50+ year olds deciding to divorce. (More evidence I was right that divorce is the new default.) I’m not quite ready to break it off with Zite altogether, but she’s getting on my nerves.

Grade: B-