Life, Distributed

Most of my work focuses these days on social justice in networks. Distributed response is this – how do we perform mutual aid in times of extreme events? Weaponized Social is sort of this (hey, did you know we’re doing one in Nairobi? Also in San Francisco?), of the role of an individual and a group in a networked culture. Networked Mortality is about how we deal with death in a networked age, how a distributed group copes with the loss of one of its members. I gave a talk at Arse Elektronika years ago about PostGeographic Sexuality — what it was like to be partnered with people when encounters are instance-based, rather than cycle-based.

The whole thing a little bit ago with the manic episode pointed at something else glaring in my life which needs to be explicitly coped with in a new way: pattern detection. While I could just take medication to create hard-borders around my affect, I’d rather at least attempt meditation practices to cope. But the interim is potentially dangerous – what if my unpracticed mind isn’t able to do it, or (worse yet) fails to catch that it’s not working? A person with a more standard life might ask a neighbor or partner to look out for them, but that’s not much of an option for me. How am I, who at my most stationary still spends half of each week for 3 weeks a month Providence and the other half in Camberville, and one week a month in the Bay Area; supposed to benefit from people who care for me noticing my unhealthy patterns? How is anyone supposed to notice a pattern with me?

So I’ve started to do this intentionally, similarly to all of the other exercises. A small group of people, who do see me more often (and regularly) than most, have been put in touch with each other with the explicit purpose to check with each other if I seem to be going off the rails in any way. I’ve caved and purchased a fitbit (an evil step sibling to the Pebble of which I’m quite fond), so the Warning Signs (excess coffee, extended sleep deprivation, etc) can be noticed by other people. A tiny web of friendly surveillance. I don’t yet know how it will go, but I do find it highly amusing that Distributed Life is present even here.

I’ve detailed out my process, in case anyone is interested in replicating it.

Social Fabric

I find making this request to be a hugely intimate thing, and so choosing who to open up to this way was an interesting process. I asked myself: 1) who do I have enough of a history with, that they would be able to compare patterns against? 2) who do I see on a somewhat regular basis? 3) who both has my interests at heart AND isn’t in a power-relationship with me which might inhibit expression of concern?
I also considered putting my boss and my shrink in the mix, as they would also need to know about issues.


First, ask people if they’d like to be involved. Let them know what’s going on, what your hopes are, what responsibilities they’d be taking on. Give everyone a chance to consider, and don’t press — this isn’t a role everyone will be up for.


Then, put everyone who has agreed in touch with each other. My introductory email ran through i) introductions, including why I trusted folk as well as what environments I was around them in, ii) describing the issue or concern

My mania manifests on an ultra-fixation on doing something or other, to the exclusion of previously made agreements, legalities, and occasionally the laws of physics.

iii) things to notice, iv) what we might do, and v) closing (including that these are a many-yeared-gap thing for me)


I then gave everyone access to my fitbit dashboard, and asked them to check in on that and with each other, and to figure out if anyone needs to Have A Talk with me at any given point. Trust fall!


Because this isn’t just about expecting other people to catch me on my shit, but in actually decreasing the likelihood of issues, I’m also practicing meditation and tweaking some other aspects of my life. Also, this whole self-improvement thing would be terrifically dull without metrics and hypotheses, right? Perhaps surprising no one, I’ve drawn this systems-ish diagram of what I’m pretty sure are positive and negative impacts on certain aspects of my life. It doesn’t include stocks and delays, because that’s not a visual language everyone recognizes.
A systems-ish diagram of components of life which can be tracked and changed.
But I still have some questions.

  • Does caffeine affect my mood and/or productivity? What are the differences between hourly feedback loops and weekly feedback loops? Can I still have any, or is this a zero-sum thing?
  • Does booze affect my mood and/or productivity? Is a high-mood ranked small set of hours worth a trade off of several days of low-mood ranking? Do I set this threshold arbitrarily, or do I just realize it’s a trade off?
  • Does movement/activity affect my mood? I assume so, but what’s the threshold?
  • Does my location affect my mood? Will I have enough data to control for who I tend to be around in certain locations, as well as the patterns of movement and travel associated with a location?
  • Does water intake affect my mood? I still don’t like drinking 8+ glasses of water a day, and I want some data saying either I don’t need to, or that I do in fact need to.
  • Does my diet affect my mood? Again, questions of controlling for other factors (how diet affects exercise, for instance) and thresholds.

So of course right now I’m creating baseline, my own control group in time.

What do you all do for your personal tracking and stabilization?