Personal metrics, infoviz porn & productivity obsession

I've recently been reading quite a bit about "personal metrics" (aka "attention data", aka your "information wake"). Pictured are some examples from Last.fm, Nike+ and RescueTime (which I used for a few days this week! My Saturday computing is visualized below.)

As an infoviz junkie, I have to say that I have always adored this stuff. But the tonight I heard a very smart person say that, prior to Nike+, collaborative running was impossible.

nike+

LastFM data

Rescuetime

Wait, really? How did we get to the point that we need a website, an RFID chip, and an iPod to coordinate running with friends?

And, perhaps more importantly, when did we start to forget it was possible otherwise?

Information visualization of this kind exudes authority and direction — it gives you clear goals, measurable output, definitive results. It facilitates competition, reward, efficiency and progress. Sexy, sure. But so does fascism.

In these graphs, I see a kind of quiet aplomb that says, "look, buddy, this infoviz shit clearly says that I know so bloody much about what I'm doing, and it's very likely that I'm doing it all twice as well as you are, sub-aware urchin."

There's indeed an air of inevitability about it all, but why?

Is it inevitable that, just because it is possible, that we must practice self-surveillance?

Are we really doing it for ourselves, as a form of personal empowerment? When I use Last.fm to track what I listen to, how much more do I become socially self-conscious, using my playlist for competitive leverage among my peers? Can I become more socially invested in the metrics than emotionally invested in the music?

When I use RescueTime to track everything I do on my computer, how much more efficiency-oriented and self-conscious do I become? Can I become more passionate about my productivity than my job?

And with Nike+, does my daily run become more compelling just because it is more competitive and metrics based? Can I love the satisfaction of the graph more than the outdoors? Is it possible to be satisfied by the graphs alone? Is it possible to be more concerned with your attention data than to the stuff you're actually paying attention to?