"I'm FedUp with FedBack."

I feel so surrounded by feedback that I sometimes cannot seem to experience the performance for the proliferation of reviews: positive feedback egging me on and negative feedback slowing me down. The past few months, at my nurse practitioner's insistence, I've been twice daily logging my blood pressure readings then sharing them via GoogleSheets®. I preface each report with my analysis of the data, which so far always concludes that the data seems too noisy and varied to support any definitive conclusion. Any budding trend seems quickly cancelled by contradictory data. Even average seems to materially misrepresent the obvious variability. Mornings seem neither consistently higher nor lower than target. Same story with each day's second reading. Overall, the advice seems the same: continue monitoring and we'll discuss at my next in-person visit.

The exercise has matured into a grudging obligation.
Rather than providing actionable feedback, I receive what I might label FedBack, the sort of wannabe feedback that neither eggs me on nor slows me down, utterly devoid of obvious meaning. My motivation lags. I feel reasonably certain that to justify the trouble, some conclusions will backfill in to more or less, sort of fit the captured data to produce Rorschach results. Not precisely definitive, but a fresh enough presumption to continue the charade. Because my readings fail to consistently fall beneath the upper threshold, I know that I'll be judged as in continuing need to perform as the chief lab rat in a fresh series of chemical experiments. I tend to test poorly, whether engaging in a trumped-up multiple choice exam or a presumably random blood draw, my results usually roam around the reaches of normality. These results are not judged as extraordinary, but as aberrant instead, "necessitating" some fresh attempt to normalize me. These attempts rarely succeed, and not simply due to any lack of good intentions.

When one interprets FedBack as Feedback, someone's itching to get FedUp, a state noteworthy for its lack of purpose or drive. Eventually, even the more tolerant start losing interest in interpreting non-parametric data sets. The ink blot no longer resembles either a cuddly raccoon cub or a genital, but the ink blot it always actually was. FedBack encourages the sort of blithe projection no one ever suspects as being more about the interpreter than about the data. Should the interpreter hold a position of authority, it might seem to the hapless inquisited that their inability to derive meaning from the data smear probably means that they aren't smart enough to see the cuddly raccoon cub. This process hardly seems therapeutic to anyone but the authority.

I've become so used to feedback swarms that I hardly ever slow down enough to consider whether I'm being fed feedback or FedBack. Both smoke alarms in the upstairs hall started chirping around bedtime one night last week. We replaced the batteries, but they started in chirping again the next afternoon. The Muse researched and suggested that they might need a thorough vacuuming. I decided to just replace the both of them, since the simultaneous failure suggested a terminal condition to me. They were clearly not chirping to warn us that we'd charred something on the stovetop, as they usually had. They'd apparently reached the end of their ceiling life if fresh batteries wouldn't placate them. Like with most modern feedback mechanisms, they never once signaled the calamity they were designed to warn against. They'd lived a long enough and plenty productive life generating false positives. The house never once caught fire, but what's the harm of mustering a fire drill every time I spill sauce on some burner. Keeps the instincts sharp or might lull me into some discounting complacency. Such is FedBack.

Years ago, I proposed a new gauge. I labeled it the Altimidator. Similar to an altimeter, it displayed an altitude, but rather than displaying the actual altitude, it asked the pilot what altitude he wanted to see displayed, and showed that instead. When fed up with the data, it seems easy to concoct an Altimidator tacitly designed to provide the desired feedback, but only producing FedBack instead. I admit that my blood pressure data seems more noisy to me than it does to my nurse practitioner and that It does not suggest that my BP registers mostly below the maximum threshold. I do know that I'm hardly performing a controlled experiment. I also readily admit that I know next to nothing about proper data collection techniques. I take readings twice each day. I call the first reading the morning reading, though sometimes I forget to take it until the early afternoon. I call the second reading the afternoon reading, though I might not remember to take it until bedtime, though I sometimes take it in the late morning if I know I'm going to be away for the rest of the day. I sometimes capture data after eating, sometimes before. Sometimes just after a good hot shower, other times before. The variability of my data collection might reasonably suggest that nothing better than FebBack could ever be derived from even a careful analysis. I'm FedUp with FedBack.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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