Wearable technology and dreams: how we use data reporting to shape ourselves

Researchers analysed people’s habits when self-reporting their physical activity and dreams on public websites. Their review shows that while seemingly different, both types of reporting are used by individuals to portray a better image of themselves—one that shows them as healthy and hardworking, as well as interesting, creative and funny.

Credit: ©2009-2012 *Quazbut – Deviantart

Credit: ©2009-2012 *Quazbut – Deviantart

Dreams and physical activity do not seem to have much in common except for the fact that in both cases there exist public outlets—apps and websites—where users can upload their data. For instance, Dreamon is an app designed to influence the types of dreams people have and to share their content. Similarly, an abundance of smartphone apps such as Strava, Map My Run, etc., can be used with wearable sensors and other devices to let people quantify their activities and share them online with friends and the general public.

The existence of these public platforms is the premise that brought together the two researchers of this study, philosopher Dr M. G. Rosen and psychologist A/Prof C. Parsons at the Interacting Minds Center, Aarhus University in Denmark. Since both dreams and physical activity sharing are self-reported, the researchers wanted to figure out what motivates people to do it and whether these reports are objective or carry some bias.

What the two researchers found is that while people share this information publicly because they want others to know their real selves, they also want to be liked and admired. “In the case of sharing physical achievements, posting online may certainly act as a personal motivator, but it also contains a strong element of image-construction,” says Dr Parsons. People often keep some activities private, while highlighting others: sharing, after all, allows everyone to tell a story about themselves.

Similar motivations are at play when people choose to report dream experiences. “There is a socialising aspect to it, and while we all have a mixture of boring and exciting dreams, having complex, interesting dream narratives is seen as reflection of a complex, interesting personality,” adds Dr Rosen. “By sharing these one can show such valued personality traits indirectly, without appearing to outright boast,” she concludes. This is akin to the indirect demonstrations of positive traits that sharing physical activity data affords.

Interestingly, the study found that both in activity and dream sharing there is a certain impulse to cheat, i.e. report false claims. But why do it? The two researchers believe it has to do, again, with creating a positive self-image. We have an idealised image of ourselves and we want others to see that we are fitter and healthier or just more creative and interesting than we actually are. Perhaps, ultimately, we all look for approval and acceptance from our peers and we do so by carefully choosing and constructing what we share—be it a physical feat or a clever dream.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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