Becoming Other

Becoming Other

By: Esther Susan Williams

Quilting together different day jobs that are similarly themed, interesting, and will (hopefully) get me professionally somewhere is how I stumbled upon the world of startups and women in tech. What a whirlwind of inspiration, creativity, and super-stardom! I come from the land of Academia, and plunked myself into the land of non-profits, desperately seeking practical application to all my philosophizing. One daughter later, I find myself comfortably snuggled in the burgeoning merger of the worlds of healthcare innovation, digital technology and big data. As a fellow nerdette, I’ve become obsessed and have created Becoming Other, a blog to talk about these innovations in a way that’s informative and empowering, promoting these services while at the same time discussing some of the larger implications inherent within. images-2

The term “Becoming Other” has been made famous by Franz Kafka in his “Metamorphosis” and by philosophers, historians, and anthropologists focusing on understanding the self through  studies of an “other”.  But in the cases of new digital technologies, mobile apps, and sensory gadgets, it’s understanding the self by seeing the self as other, where technology illuminates details of our daily activities to show us in a new light. Chronically ill patients are provided with tools to track everyday health for better understanding of symptoms, and better control over treatments through the startup, WellKit.  With another startup, Mango Health, different medications‘ affects can be charted to better assess personalized treatments. Litesprite uses games to help people learn, develop and maintain health habits.

With this blog, I’m exploring how these new technologies and data collection enable our bodies and behaviors to be graphed so that we’ll be more informed, make better choices and have more control over our treatments. Sensory technologies are measuring how hard we breath, how fast our hearts are beating, our glucose levels, our stress levels; they are monitoring our mood, assessing our eating habits, and capturing our habits, our feelings, or our painful and elating experiences each and every day. In response, we’re seeing our bodies, emotions and habits in new (and truer – data doesn’t lie!) colors. We suddenly become accountable to awareness, with the promise that perhaps, with all that information, a better you will emerge! It’s true. Silver lightening flash explosion of unicorn happiness!

There are many implications in all this. Storytelling of that hike you did a year ago when you fell out of the tree after getting stung by a bee can no longer be altered (Totem makes sure that all those friends hiking with you take pictures and comment on the experience had). You also can’t fib about how you felt tired, when the data shows an adrenaline serge, or feeling relaxed when your heart was about to jump out of your chest along with you lungs. Memory gets some help.


Even hospitals are getting remodeled to include sensory technology. In a recent Wired article, project co-lead and creative director David Ruthven is quoted: “Technology has to become the connective tissue of care because there is infinite variability between physical environments.”

You might be asking how this is any different then, say, Instagram or Facebook or Twitter. These social platforms allow you to capture historical data on experiences had, yes, but they don’t let you capture all those internal metrics driving and being affected by your experiences. Digital health technology is like a far-reaching images-6microscope looking down into your everyday life. If you want to understand your health, your habits, your fitness performance better, get an app to help show you the way!

As you capture the data, it’s collected in ginormous digital clouds. The Affordable Care Act has spurred venturecapital interest in health care startups over the last two years in a major way. More digital technology out there to use means the more data being collected. Big data is central to the Affordable Care Act, and promises to alleviate healthcare costs while also heighten research collaboration, and introduce better personalized treatment plans. With all these positives, a series of legislation in privacy laws is also underway. As of right now, consent in allowing insurance companies, government, pharmaceutical agencies, and clinicians to use your information is a wee bit wabbly.


Still, these technologies – often intuitively designed, exciting to interact with, and NEW – have so much benefit and potential to change the way we speak about ourselves – in present, past and future terms. They just have to be promoted! It’s exciting stuff! And this blog exists to talk about it all! But with a cautionary bent that hopefully engages the public in discussions about the implications of these changes.

By establishing an online forum for chatter that’s both serious and playful in nature about these new technologies, there can be a sense of control over what the swarm of investors, entrepreneurs, and institutions are telling us is best for our health. That is, after all, the point of all these awesome gadgets – for us to be able to take control of our own wellness. Understanding these new technologies and their implications is imperative to holding those reins.

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About the Author: About the Author: Esther Susan Williams (AKA Susan Williams) is a stay-at-home mother moonlighting as a digital tech, health care and gaming wannabe connoisseur.  She received her BA from Columbia University in anthropology and MA from NYU in East Asian Culture, with an emphasis on the history of science and technology. After moving to Seattle, she started a career in marketing and development for non-profits.  One of the main focuses in her non-profit work has been discussing the needs of children and adults with mental, emotional, and cognitive disabilities. When she’s not running to her computer during her daughter’s nap times, or splashing in Lake Washington’s water, Susan is riding horses or running. Finding the interconnectivity in all these seemingly disparate adventures, Susan has found the exciting and changing world of health care and technology. In this world, she hopes to help make big impacts in increasing patient engagement while helping people to lead healthier, fuller lives. You can read more about it here.