Are our lives really that complex?

I spent the past four days at South by Southwest in Austin. I spoke on the Sick Clicks panel with Ted Eytan from Kaiser and Jay Bernhardt from the CDC. The panel went very well…here’s the Twitter stream. But what struck me was the paucity of all fascinating, new technologies created since last year’s SXSW. SXSW 2010 was the year of geolocation– Gowalla and Foursquare duked it out for the cool prize. I’ve been using Foursquare since it was introduced at last year’s SXSW. I can check into places on Foursquare and then Last Night’s Checkins puts my Foursquare data on a map. Now I’ve got snapshots of myself I’ve never been able to see. But it seems like technology is being created to solve problems we never had…and may never have. Don’t get me wrong, I love all things new. But tools are being created just because we can…are these tools truly solving real human problems that make a difference in the world? A study, Limits of Predictability in Human Mobility, recently published in Science struck me pretty hard:

Location data from mobile phones has indicated that 93 per cent of human movement is predictable. The researchers anonymised data culled from mobile phone service providers and found that it was possible to accurately predict movement and location up to 97 per cent of the time for the majority of people, and 93 per cent of the time for the entire set of data. The study also found that the majority of people did not stray outside a 6 mile radius for the bulk of the period investigated, and that at any one time people were 70 per cent likely to be at their most-visited location.

In essence, we’re actually quite boring creatures of habit in our daily lives. Our behaviors are predictable if we have a month-long snapshot of our lives. Our daily individual lives just aren’t that complex. Things get stressful and make us think that life is complex. But in reality, we do the same things over and over and don’t deviate much from our food, exercise, and social patterns.

How does this apply to health? We all need a month-long snapshot of our lives. From that, we need to identify our behaviors that aren’t extremely healthy and commit to small changes over time. These are new, Apple Store-like consumer services that mix technology and human-powered coaching. They aren’t traditional healthcare.

How does this apply to happiness? New experiences, relationships, and thoughts are what keep life interesting. Flickr has it right with their version of serendipity called interestingness. Interestingness in our immediate world seems to be a huge contributor to daily happiness. How do we pursue mini daily vacations? How do we break from the norms for the better? Does technology play a role in this? Can we design serendipity or interestingness competitions? Can we create tools that help us build more interesting outliers in our life? photo from Feltron’s 2008 Annual Report

Are our lives really that complex?