Wal-Mart Raises Its Minimum Wage To $9 An Hour

The retailer is America’s biggest private employer. Its minimum wage will rise to $9 an hour this year, and $10 an hour in 2016.

Wal-Mart, America’s biggest private employer, is boosting wages for its workers.

The retailer said its minimum wage in U.S. stores will increase to $9 an hour in April, and rise to $10 an hour in 2016. Some department managers will see a pay raise to $13 an hour this summer and $15 next year. About 500,000 associates will get a raise from the change in the first half of this year, Wal-Mart said in a statement today.

CEO Doug McMillon alluded to worker dissatisfaction in a blog post announcing the changes today.

“We frequently get it right but sometimes we don’t,” he wrote. “When we don’t, we adjust.”

“In recent years we’ve had tough economic environments, a rapidly growing company, and fundamental shifts in how customers are shopping,” he continued. “We also made a few changes aimed at productivity and efficiency that undermined the feeling of ownership some of you have for your business. When we take a step back, it’s clear to me that one of our highest priorities must be to invest more in our people this year.”

Executives emphasized on a call today that the increase didn’t mean anything would be taken away from workers.

Wal-Mart’s decision, which compares to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, may influence other companies to boost their pay as well in order to remain competitive in a world where the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.7%. A lower unemployment rate means workers may have more options — offering higher pay, better benefits and training opportunities is a good way to keep them. Wal-Mart said it had almost 1.4 million U.S. associates in its annual report last year; it’s reasonable to expect the company’s decision to have a ripple effect.

Americans from the retail and fast-food industries have been fighting for a higher minimum wage in recent years, with many pushing for a floor of $15 an hour. Workers have coordinated strikes, walkouts and pickets in cities across the country and politicians on both sides of the aisle have vowed to focus on the plight of low-income Americans.

Once the changes hit in April, Wal-Mart said it will pay an average full-time hourly wage of $13 an hour from $12.85 an hour, and an average part-time wage of $10 an hour from $9.48 an hour.

Executives on today’s call also said that the changes will offer more career opportunities for Wal-Mart employees and lead to better customer service, and eventually benefit shareholders as well. Wal-Mart stock was trading down by about 2.7% on Thursday morning following the announcement.

Wal-Mart shared this image on its website:

Wal-Mart / Via blog.walmart.com

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/sapna/walmart-raising-wages

Love Bowling But Hate Those Sketchy Bowling Alleys? Check This Project Out!

If you’re someone who can bowl without the bumpers up, I salute you. If you’re skilled enough to make wearing those terrifying shoes worth it, I have nothing but respect. But what if you love bowling, you’re absolutely awful at it, and you don’t feel like paying to display your lack of talent? And what if you are a bowling aficionado, but you still aren’t into the alley scene?

Then this project is the one for you. With some wood, bowling pins, and string, this person came up with the most amazing backyard bowling setup of all time. You’re going to want in on the action.

If this looks like something you need in your life (and let’s be real — it totally does) take a look at what he did to create it.

This isn’t a DIY undertaking for the faint of heart, so planning is key. Imgur user Makgyver87 first mapped out the exact dimensions of the bowling lane so that he could round up the right materials.

This is serious business, friends.

After that, the frame was constructed with 2 x 4 panels and the base was created with plywood.

He made it long enough to ensure that it wouldn’t be too easy to pull off a bunch of strikes.

If you’re me, the lane could be three feet long and that still wouldn’t be an issue.

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Setting up pins after every turn is a pain, which is why this guy decided to create a pulley system. To do so, holes were drilled into every pin so that string could be run through the top of each one.

Many attempts later, he finally came up with a system that worked.

One tug of that blue string resets every bowling pin!

After he leveled the boards, the lane was ready to go!

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But then he decided to up the ante. By adding some neon lights, he created an awesome night bowling setup!

Having this in your backyard would make you the coolest cookout host in the history of cookouts.

I can tell you one thing. I’d bowl way more often if I could walk outside and limit my embarrassment to the confines of my own backyard. If you want to learn more about this project, you can check it out here!

Read more: http://www.viralnova.com/backyard-bowling/

Courage: ‘Proud savage’ Eltahawy prepares to brave next phase of prosecution


Being a “proud savage” can’t be easy.

Last September, cable news pundit Mona Eltahawy was arrested after righteously defacing a pro-Israel poster. And this morning, she learned that the New York District Attorney’s office has requested access to her Twitter account in order to help make their case against her in court:

Not sure what NY District Attorney thinks he’ll find in my Twitter DMs, etc. I very publicly tweeted I was going to spray.DM r for flirting.

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

The District Attorney has requested access to my Twitter account. The case is called “The People vs Mona Eltahawy.”

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

Twitter got request April 15 & unless they receive notice that matter been resolved, they “may b required 2 produce some/all requested info”

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

NY District Attorney has requested access to my Twitter account for the case involving my spray painting that racist/bigoted ad.

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

Don’t you get it? She had to spray paint that poster! Its pro-Israel, anti-jihad message was totally offensive.

For those asking: after I spray painted that ad I was charged w criminal mischief, making graffiti and possession of a graffiti instrument.

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

I face up to a year in jail for spray painting that racist/bigoted ad.

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

As I’ve said before,I acted out of principle & I’m ready 2 stand trial. If u don’t agree w what I did,figure out ur action vs racism/bigotry

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

Last tweet was my polite way of saying: People pls don’t write 2 tell me what I should’ve done differently. I chose my action.Choose yours.

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

She also has the invaluable support of terrorist appeaser and UPenn prof Anthea Butler.

Yes! RT @antheabutlerStanding with you.The problem is with most people,they won’t stand up for ANYTHING.Let me know how I can support you.

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

How nice.

My next court appearance is June 17. I’ll be back in #NYC for it. I love this “The People vs Mona Eltahawy” business.

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

Loves it. And look how brave she is!

In Nov, I turned down DA’s no-jail plea: 2 days community service, $200 for MTA for pink on wall, $780 for woman who came btwn me & ad

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

The woman who came between me and that ad wanted $780 mostly for her Gucci sunglasses. Fuck a plea deal that includes that!

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

You heard her.

A million thanks to all of your who’ve written to me with support and love. Much much appreciated! #ProudSavage

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013

We expect that Mona will soon receive a call from President Obama thanking her for her courage.

And as for all you haters out there:

OK politeness is over:for fuck’s sake people, stop tweeting me w/lectures.Get the fuck off Twitter & go do something or I’ll fucking blocj u

— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) April 30, 2013



Vandal Mona Eltahawy tweets pics of pro-Israel poster defaced by her cellmates

Mona Eltahawy defends anti-free-speech vandalism, said she’d do it again; Updated

Vandal, cable pundit Mona Eltahawy cheers on Operation Deface in DC

‘Proud Savage’ Mona Eltahawy suspects entrapment in Federal Reserve bomb plot

Mona Eltahawy condemns Muslim Brotherhood, celebrates her Brotherhood-endorsed vandalism

Read more: http://twitchy.com/2013/04/30/courage-proud-savage-mona-eltahawy-prepares-to-brave-next-phase-of-prosecution/

Live coverage: Mitt Romney introduces VP pick Paul Ryan at USS Wisconsin


Mitt Romney welcomed Rep. Paul Ryan to the GOP ticket at the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia this morning.

Twitchy will bring you live updates as Romney introduces his running mate.

Romney: Ryan "doesn't demonize his opponents." "I don't know of anyone who doesn't respect his character and judgment."

— joshbranson (@joshbranson) August 11, 2012

ROMNEY-RYAN: "Paul Ryan works in Eashignton, but his beliefs remain firmly rooted in Janesville, WIs.," says Romney. #mapoli

— Glen Johnson (@globeglen) August 11, 2012

Romney on Ryan: Paul combines firm principles with a practical concern for getting things done.

— Adam Henry (@viewofadam) August 11, 2012

"Paul and I are beginning on journey" – Romney

— Sarah Boxer (@Sarah_Boxer) August 11, 2012

Romney: We will return work to welfare.

— Adam Henry (@viewofadam) August 11, 2012

Romney: We'll get that started by repealing and replacing Obamacare.

— Adam Henry (@viewofadam) August 11, 2012

ROMNEY-RYAN: Romney goes right at it, saying by addressing budget problems, the duo will protect Medicare. #mapoli

— Glen Johnson (@globeglen) August 11, 2012

Some reporters are covering the scene at Ryan’s house in Janesville, Wisconsin.

As Romney announces Ryan, dogs at his house start barking.

— John Dickerson (@jdickerson) August 11, 2012

Oops. Is Romney reconsidering his spot at the top of the ticket?

And did Romney just say Join me in welcoming the next President of the United States?

— Mickey Boardman (@AskMrMickey) August 11, 2012

Yes, yes he did.

Romney accidentally introduces Ryan as "the next president of the United States, Paul Ryan."

— Ginger Gibson (@GingerGibson) August 11, 2012

Romney caught his mistake quickly and played it off with humor and class as he put his arm around Ryan.

Romney on Ryan: "Every now and then, I make a mistake. But I did not make a mistake with this guy!"

— WFAA TV (@wfaachannel8) August 11, 2012

ROMNEY-RYAN: Big embrace and handshake at center stage… #mapoli

— Glen Johnson (@globeglen) August 11, 2012

The crowd is wild for Ryan.

Ryan: Governor Romney is the man for this moment. And he and I share one commitment: We will restore the greatness of this country.

— Francesca Chambers (@fran_chambers) August 11, 2012

"Mitt Romney is a leader with the skills, the background and the character that this country needs." -Ryan #RomneyRyan2012

— Eye on Politics (@EyeOnPolitics) August 11, 2012

"I'm surrounded by the people I love. I love you, too."– Ryan

— Eddie Scarry (@eScarry) August 11, 2012

Romney's son @Matt_Romney stands next to @AnnDRomney watching Ryan speak

— Sarah Boxer (@Sarah_Boxer) August 11, 2012

And … attack dog mode!

@Paul Ryan, "Let me say a word about the man, Mitt Romney is about to replace."

— RPL (@smartinnj) August 11, 2012

"Whatever the explanations, whatever the excuses, this is a record of failure." – Ryan

— Adam Wagner (@AdamWagner1990) August 11, 2012

"We find ourselves in a nation facing debt, doubt, and despair." – Paul Ryan

— †ruthcry (@TruthCrier) August 11, 2012

Ryan on Obama: we can't afford four more years of this.

— Jim Acosta (@JimAcostaCNN) August 11, 2012

Ryan: "High unemployment, declining incomes and crushing debt is not a new normal. It's the result of misguided policies."

— Brandon Kiser (@Kiser) August 11, 2012

The next VP pic.twitter.com/sM1thmpP

— Reince Priebus (@Reince) August 11, 2012

Ryan: "We're in a difficult and dangerous moment."

— Sarah Boxer (@Sarah_Boxer) August 11, 2012

Huge applause for this line:

Ryan speech: "If you have a small business, you DID build that" http://t.co/agBQM2CS

— David Freddoso (@freddoso) August 11, 2012

Ryan: America is on the wrong track.

— Adam Henry (@viewofadam) August 11, 2012

Ryan: Mitt Romney has shown himself to be a man of achievement, excellence and integrity.

— Adam Henry (@viewofadam) August 11, 2012

Ryan on what makes our country great:

Ryan: America is more than just a place, though. It's an idea.

— Adam Henry (@viewofadam) August 11, 2012

Ryan 'Our rights came from nature and god, not government" gets big cheers. "That's who we are, that's how we built this country."

— Ginger Gibson (@GingerGibson) August 11, 2012

Ryan: this country "promises equal opportunity, not equal outcomes."

— T.J. Holmes (@tjholmes) August 11, 2012

Ryan: "We won't duck the tough issues; we will lead. We won't blame others; we will take responsibility."

— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) August 11, 2012

Ryan: We won’t replace our founding principles, we will reapply them.

— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) August 11, 2012

Ryan: We will honor you, our fellow citizens, by giving you the right and opportunity to make the choice.

— Adam Henry (@viewofadam) August 11, 2012

And the crowd goes wild for a strong closing:

Ryan concludes speech:"We will unite America, and get this done." Then Kid Rock's "Born Free" plays….

— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) August 11, 2012

Read more: http://twitchy.com/2012/08/11/live-coverage-mitt-romney-introduces-vp-pick-paul-ryan-at-uss-wisconsin/

Justice Thomas oppose affirmative action?!


Director Joss Whedon doesn’t care for conservative-leaning Supreme Court Justices. And that’s his prerogative. But instead of losing his temper and getting “physically enraged” about SCOTUS like Chris “The Hulk” Hayes, he opted for a much slimier, more vicious approach to registering his disgust:


Yep. Apparently it’s ironic that Justice Thomas uses his brain, rather than tired stereotypes, to make decisions and live his life. How dare he? What is he, some kind of Uncle Thomas or something?


Decent folks fed up with this kind of elitist leftist racial garbage are rightly giving Whedon the business:


Because Whedon says so, of course.


How utterly insulting.


No kidding.


And there isn’t an outhouse big enough to contain all his B.S.

Read more: http://twitchy.com/2013/06/25/joss-whedon-how-dare-justice-thomas-oppose-affirmative-action/

Jon Lovitz wants official who called Netanyahu ‘chickensh*t’ to reveal himself


Comedian, actor and small business owner Jon Lovitz has advised, “If you don’t want a fight with Israel, don’t pick one.” It’s also good policy for Obama administration officials not to insult Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — especially not anonymously.

This is your chance, anonymous official.

Here’s a closing thought that makes a lot of sense.

* * *


‘With all due respect, this is chickensh*t': Bill Kristol calls B.S. on Jeffrey Goldberg

‘Who’s ‘chickensh*t’ again?’ After Bibi smear, WH spanked with cold truth [photos]

Read more: http://twitchy.com/2014/10/31/say-it-to-his-face-jon-lovitz-wants-official-who-called-netanyahu-chickensht-to-reveal-himself/

Shamnesty punishes legal immigrants: ‘Waiting 13 years to bring family here’


Huh. Others are wondering that, too. As Twitchy reported yesterday, Senator Cruz brought up that correct point when he issued his statement opposing the immigration “pathway to citizenship” proposal. If it looks like Shamnesty Redux, that’s because it is.

“…and profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who waited years, if not decades, to come to America legally.” – @sentedcruz

— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) January 28, 2013

Amen, Senator Cruz. Thank you for standing strong against your craven colleagues.

Twitter users, including CNN contributor Dana Loesch, agree.

In this country it’s harder to become a legal citizen than an illegal citizen. Insane.

— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) January 28, 2013

I personally know too many law-abiding immigrants, patiently waiting after following process, who have been penalized by our system.

— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) January 28, 2013

The ones I know are left hanging — the shortest time for one friend has been four years. These aren’t exceptions, it’s reality.

— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) January 28, 2013

We have friends who’ve waited for 7 years and paid five figures and are still awaiting legal citizenship. Hard workers, love America.

— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) January 28, 2013

My sons’ Spanish teacher is a citizen, her husband is not. He’s been waiting several years for citizenship. One of those evil business folk.

— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) January 28, 2013

Law-abiding people wait years to come here legally and obtain citizenship.

bit.ly/2JpnOC The line for LEGALLY immigrating here, for virtually everybody, takes seven to twenty-eight years to navigate.

— Moe Lane (@moelane) January 28, 2013

And more Twitter users relay personal experiences with legal immigration.

What do I say to my int’l friends who have been waiting years LEGALLY to get US citizenship?”Too bad you didn’t break the law earlier?”

— PolitiJim (@politiJim) January 29, 2013

My wife immigrated to this country legally 20 years ago. Amnesty is a slap in the face to her and everyone else who followed rules. #tgdn

— ag_texas (@ag_texas) January 28, 2013

People I know who waited years to enter the US legally are the most vocal against immigration reform for those who entered illegally.

— HeartGiraffes (@HeartGiraffes) January 29, 2013

@marcorubio what about my many friends and colleagues from countries who have done legally and have been waiting for years for green cards?

— Brad Hudson (@bradfordhudson) January 29, 2013

“@tomhall: #Immigration” my friend has been waiting to get here legally for years, she’s thrilled illegals will get preference over her

— Steve Mona (@nkslider) January 28, 2013

@dloesch my husband spent thousands and it took 7 years. Lots of time, paperwork and patience. He felt worth the wait

— Missy Day Sardo (@missydaysardo) January 28, 2013

@dloesch My wife worked hard to become a USCITZ, took over 5 years but it was the law.She is not Latino, does that make a difference.

— dylansodad (@dylansodad) January 28, 2013

Please make sure my coworker, here legally, gets citizenship b4 anyone not following the rules does @marcorubio he’s been trying 4 ten years

— karen mcnulty (@karenjmcnulty) January 29, 2013

@dloesch Trouble is…current laws resulted in 23 years of legal struggle on legal Visas for me to become citizen.23 YEARS.

— Sonia F. Khan (@sapienist) January 28, 2013

@dloesch very true. Took me about 8 years in all to become a US citizen, either way though it was worth it. I love being here.

— Grant Crosthwaite (@GLCrosthwaite) January 29, 2013

@jonathanhoenig A friend’s sister’s family waited patiently over 12 years to come legally from Hong Kong.

— Victor (@vicnewyork) January 29, 2013

@samrod2935spoke 2 a Vietnamese immigrant.Took 8 years to legally come to this country with her sister living here. Not here for welfare

— Lisa 4freedom (@Abcstofree) January 29, 2013

@stuffthatilikePerfectly said when we have million ofpeople waiting on line to come here legally to do those jobs. I waited 7 years myself

— Khalif Saint-Cyr (@khalifallah) January 28, 2013

Like, I’m sorry that my family took ten years and waited in fucking lines LEGALLY to obtain our citizenship. You should do the fucking same.

— Danielle ✌ (@canadanielle) January 22, 2013

@joenbc @morningmika waiting 13 years to bring family legally into this country & still have another 5 years to go b/c siblings. not fair

— NEP (@fullmoonsister) January 29, 2013

Not fair, indeed. Punishing the law-abiding who seek to come here in good faith by rewarding scofflaws. Forward!

Read more: http://twitchy.com/2013/01/29/shamnesty-punishes-legal-immigrants-waiting-13-years-to-bring-my-family-here-legally/

Big Mother Is Watching You: The Track-Everything Revolution Is Here Whether You Want It Or Not

If you keep your fitness-related New Year’s resolutions in 2015, it’ll likely be thanks to the new wave of devices and apps that have taken monitoring things like newborn sleep patterns and blood oxygenation from geek hobby to mass-market juggernaut. But what happens when companies have access to the most mundane details about our bodies?

The first thing I do every morning is take my phone, wedged carefully beneath my pillow, and check my sleep stats. They’re tracked, in a weirdly calming graph of blue-blacks, within an app called Sleep Cycle, where I’ve used them to feel very, very good about the sleep habits of a thirtysomething, childless journalist. Sometimes I take screenshots of my stats, hovering so self-righteously over eight hours a night, and send them to friends; earlier this fall, I Instagrammed a particularly impressive 10 hours, the result of a solid dose of strep throat medication.

Anne Helen Petersen / BuzzFeed

For most of the last three years, I’ve lived by the gospel of my sleep quality percentage. So what if I had a dream so vivid that I woke up in tears and felt like I’d slept not at all? My sleep quality said 88%, so I was expecting a B+ day.

But I also harbor a shameful secret: I cheat. I simply opt not to track the nights I stay out like my college-freshman self. They mess with my stats, which is to say, they mess with the way I like to believe and present how I live my life. Therefore, I pretend they don’t exist.

I had been tracking my sleep for three years when I discovered that even if I hadn’t periodically cheated, everything I thought about “quality” was, in fact, suspect. As multiple engineers, scientists, and designers who have devoted themselves to creating devices that track sleep with precision told me, Sleep Cycle — and, for that matter, any app or device that uses motion to judge sleep quality — is incredibly imprecise. As one researcher put it, “actionless sleep and good sleep are not the same thing,” a finding echoed in numerous scientific studies.

Weirdly, I didn’t feel betrayed so much as curious, because they aren’t the only ones in this emerging space: By 2018, there will be 60 million fitness trackers in use worldwide. In, outside, and around the body and our homes, the devices just keep coming — in part because the funding does as well: As of September 2014, $1.4 billion in venture capital funding has been directed toward the wearable and biosensing market; by 2018, wearable sales are expected to push $30.2 billion. Fitbit and Jawbone have attracted a significant percentage of that capital ($66 million and $470 million, respectively).

For most of the last 25 years, the internet concerned itself with taking existing information and organizing it in a way that made it instantly accessible; these new devices are capturing data that used to be inaccessible and turning it into something knowable. Yet talking with nearly two dozen companies, it seems clear that the molded plastic of the fitness tracker and the dubious findings of the sleep app are merely the rudimentary beginnings of an all-encompassing cultural groundswell.

Apple CEO Tim Cook discusses the new Apple Watch during an event at Apple headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Photo

The next generation of devices — led by the Apple Watch, which aims to put health trackers on 15 million wrists — will focus on providing actionable insights on everything from posture to sun exposure, from blood oxygenation to infant respiration. Another host of devices communicate with our homes, our pets, our cars; others will track our elderly parents and our wandering children. Still more will track focus in the workplace, compliance to prescriptions from physical therapists, exposure to sunlight, and our ability to conceive. The breadth of devices and their utility is so vast that it’s proven difficult to name the trend: Quantified Self, Internet of Things, Everything-Tracking — nothing quite fits. The thesis that unites them, however, is clear: The future will be quantified.

Fears of what can be done with this data are not unfounded. In 2013, a San Francisco man was convicted of vehicular manslaughter using Strava data concerning his speed on his bike, and an upcoming civil case will be the first to use Fitbit data; in that case, Fitbit is being used to protect the individual — a personal trainer, injured on the job, who claims that her baseline activity levels remain below average for someone of her age and occupation.

It’s not difficult to imagine a future in which similar data sets are wielded by employers, the government, or law enforcement. Instead of liberating the self through data, these devices could only further restrain and contain it. As Walter De Brouwer, co-founder of the health tracker Scanadu, explained to me, “The great thing about being made of data is that data can change.” But for whom — or what — are such changes valuable?

Photograph by Jon Premosch for BuzzFeed

To explore these questions, I wanted to take my own tracking to the next semi-obsessive level. Thus: a step tracker, which uses an accelerometer to estimate your steps and, in more recent models, your sleep. I researched the major players in their various levels of size, sophistication, and color. I decided I’m not glam enough for the Tory Burch Fitbit or Misfit Bloom, instead settling on a black Jawbone UP24, which looks as if a child wrapped a fat pipe cleaner with silver tips around your wrist.

The Jawbone UP Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

I calibrated it to my Jawbone iPhone app; I added my height and weight; I set it to vibrate every time I’d been sitting, sedentary and stupefied, in front of my computer for more than 30 minutes; I learned how to press the moon button to let it know that I’d gone to sleep. I pleasured in looking at my stats every time I walked the 30 steps across the office. I reveled in blowing away the 10,000 recommended step count. It was the first blush of gadget love.

Which was the feeling that accompanied me as I signed up for the quarterly “meetup” of the Bay Area chapter of Quantified Self, the most innovative and exhaustive self-trackers in the world. I arrived nervous and somewhat embarrassed of my rudimentary tracker as I stepped off the BART, staring at the words “Berkeley Skydeck” and “start-up accelerator” on the meetup invitation. I felt like I was about to meet some amplified version of my people.

Turns out, “skydeck” was San Francisco-speak for office space atop an otherwise unremarkable high-rise. The vibe was that of a church service or even an AA meeting. In place of cheap cookies and weak coffee, there was craft IPA, assorted finger sandwiches, and a swarm of QS “greeters” who encouraged the 100-plus attendees to write our names on name tags. The crowd looked very early-adopter, which is to say almost entirely white, mostly male, with a strong representation in the 30 to 60 age range — classic Gadget Dads. There were also grad students and hippie moms, confident tech bros name-dropping venture capital firms, and a handful of confused wanderers, like the guy who came up to me and whispered, “My friend dragged me here — what the hell is going on.”

In the last decade, the tracking inclination has simultaneously coalesced and expanded through the organization of Quantified Self, a group defined by its interest in self-tracking and subsequent discoveries, with membership in the thousands that now spans the globe. Quantified Self first entered the popular awareness in 2010, when co-founder Gary Wolf, then a contributing editor for Wired, outlined the movement and its fascinations for the New York Times Magazine. Since then, QS has become a tech curiosity, alternately heralded as real-life cyborgs and condemned as “datasexuals” whose embrace of self-surveillance will usher in a dystopian future.

Chris Dancy Flickr: Christopher M Dancy / Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) / Via Flickr: servicesphere

Like most write-ups of subcultures, the lived experience of Quantified Selfers resides somewhere much less extreme than how they’ve been previously profiled. Between Chris Dancy, who uses 300 to 700 tracking systems at all times, and Nicholas Felton, whose Annual Reports have become fetish objects, you’ll find people who are tracking aspects of their lives in innovative and significantly less flashy ways, usually centered on health, hobbies, and genuine curiosity about the way they navigate the world.

Back in the Accelerator, the carpet was a bit stained, and the windows — which, in daylight, would’ve given a spectacular view of the bay — needed cleaning. But the enthusiasm was palpable. Beers in hand, attendees chatted with the half dozen hosts of science-fair-like setups that lined the wall: A fresh-faced twentysomething showed off a bare-bones system to track his productivity (and asked me if I had any leads on a job); two feet away, a team of blue-polo-shirted car insurance salesmen enthusiastically tried to convince me, despite my lack of a car, to track my driving habits.

Gary Wolf in 2011 Flickr: Marc Smith / Creative Commons ( CC BY 2.0) / Via Flickr: marc_smith

Dressed in a natty pair of jeans and pink dress shirt, QS founder Gary Wolf roamed the room like a pastor, shaking hands, remembering everyone’s name. When he convened the group, he extended his arms, telling us, “I’m so happy for us to be together again.” Before the night’s three planned presentations, Wolf offered a preamble filled with credos (“not big data or small data but our data”), visuals (a pyramid reorienting the way that “prevailing wisdom” has been, and will be, sorted), and a heartfelt message to those who had never been to a QS meetup to participate: as trackers, as presenters, as volunteers.

The presentations focused on tracking online dating behavior and an attempt to solve “output” (read: poop) problems, oscillating between the entertaining and the triumphant. In this, they were representative of the type of presentation that takes place at more than 100 similar groups around the world. Participants may lose weight, or figure out what’s causing their eczema, or make a plan to maximize their working hours, but it’s really the intimate revelations and self-discovery that keeps people coming to these meetings, talking with others about their projects, and figuring out new ways to track.

As I listened to Greg Schwartz, a classically handsome QSer in a Superman shirt, talk about his efforts to “quantify” his dating life, I was struck less by the weirdness of these presentations and more by the value of the findings: The guy with output problems did, indeed, solve them (nuts and flaxseed were to blame); another trying to sort his memories figured a way, using an elaborate flashcard system, of pegging calendar days to distinct mental snapshots of his life. Schwartz figured out he should definitely stop putting “firedancing” in his first flirtatious dating message. Even as the technology of self-tracking becomes more and more sophisticated, the ways that Quantified Self were tracking had much more to do with pen, paper, and Excel spreadsheets than pricey gadgets.

Still, tracking behaviors that, in Wolf’s words, just seven years ago were “the strangest thing you could think of to do” have gone mainstream. What was once limited to a handful of tech-savvy obsessives is now the provenance of middle-class, middle-America moms, who have increasingly embraced apps like MyFitnessPal and trackers like Fitbit.

kGoal Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

The highest concentration of self-tracking companies are, unsurprisingly, in the Bay Area, with ambitious startups ranging from modest two-person side projects to bustling staffs with over 100 employees. At Basis, which was acquired last spring by Intel in a preemptive attempt to compete with the Apple Watch, they were about to release the Basis Peak, touted as “the ultimate fitness and sleep tracker,” and the mood was one of hip confidence, the office framed in leather couches and road bikes. By contrast, the offices of Minna — the small operation responsible for kGoal, a device that helps track pelvic floor health (the muscles that help you do kegels) — were housed in a co-working space in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood, its co-founder apologizing profusely for the lack of fancy digs. Lumo Body Tech, which occupies a drab, indistinct office building in downtown Palo Alto, helps monitor posture.

Whistle Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

Then there’s Whistle, which makes round, silver devices that monitor your dog’s activity, linking with users’ fitness trackers to provide activity data and, soon, GPS tracking. Whistle’s offices were resplendent with very well-behaved dogs — all tracked, naturally, by Whistles — and appropriately located near several pet rescue operations off of San Francisco’s Treat Avenue. Whistle co-founder Ben Jacobs was boyish, talkative, eager, and followed everywhere by his dachshund-terrier mix, Duke, who shared many of the same characteristics. Jacobs is bullish on the future of the rapidly expanding market for devices that track what he explained as “the four areas that are valuable, but can’t speak for themselves: our homes, cars, infants, and pets.”

Nest Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

The most prominent company in this first arena is Nest Labs, which sells “smart” thermostats, smoke alarms, and cameras to monitor the home, all of which can be controlled via mobile and will soon communicate with wearables to adjust to fluctuating body temperatures. For the car, Progressive Insurance has been promoting the use of Snapshot, which monitors mileage, time of travel, and how hard you brake, since 2011, luring users with the promise of lower premiums. Nest-owned Dropcam is also vying for a slice of the lucrative pet-monitoring market, which targets the same owners who buy high-end pet food and pet insurance. (Nest, like all of the companies I interviewed for this piece, protects specific sales data.)

And then there are the babies. The most holistic baby-tracking devices come from MimoBaby, whose “Smart Nursery” currently includes a respiration-sensing “baby kimono” that not only protects against SIDS, but combines data about the baby’s feeding, naps, and sleep patterns to determine whether a waking baby needs to be fed or can be settled back to sleep; a smart mobile that zeros in on the sounds and images that put your baby to sleep; and, coming soon, a bottle warmer that will communicate with the kimono to start warming when the baby begins to wake. The ultimate endpoint is an integrated future in which all of these devices work seamlessly with one another — when the baby wakes, for example, your activity monitor decides which parent is less tired and thus should be alerted.

MimoBaby Photograph by Jon Premosch for BuzzFeed

As I sat in the high-ceilinged, tall-windowed, exposed-brick offices of Rock Health, a venture capital firm specializing in funding health care technology, a distinct vision of the future of tracking devices came into focus.

“We’re basically looking for three things,” said Malay Gandhi, managing director of Rock Health. “Things that are actually functional, focusing on an aspect of human physiology that people actually care about and can act on. Ideally the device is also clinically useful and reliable, meaning the data is actually actionable and valid and can be held to a clinical standard. The last area is convenience: If people don’t want to wear the thing, you have a big problem with getting any data from the sensor.”

Jawbone and Fitbit dominate their corner of the market — a combined 87% of the fitness tracker market in 2013 — but from an investment standpoint, there’s a marked hesitancy toward them, manifest most poignantly in New York Times technology critic Nick Bilton’s April 2014 piece, in which he questioned the “snake oil” quotient of popular wearables (and step counters in particular) and their “slick marketing but suspect results.” (Fitbit told me that third-party tests have confirmed that its trackers are the “most consistently accurate activity trackers on the market”; Jawbone says the UP is intended to function as “an overall lifestyle tracker” with a goal to “really understand your baseline, and discover things you might not have known, so you can start to make decisions.”) Fitbits and Jawbones sell well, but “decay levels,” to use Gandhi’s words, are high, and customer satisfaction, even gleaned from Amazon review pages, is relatively low: The Fitbit Flex and Jawbone UP24 are currently rated 3.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.

The reason these devices don’t routinely score raves is because they lack a clear promise that they can in turn fulfill. “When you look at the marketing for these step counters, it’s very broad and aspirational,” Gandhi explained. “If you go and read the five-star reviews of Fitbit, they’re largely about losing weight, but if you read their public marketing, Fitbit still has this aspiration of being more of a health and wellness brand than weight loss.”

LumoLift Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

In contrast, a device like the Lumo Lift promises to give you better posture through the use of a device, magnetically affixed to your lapel or shirt, that buzzes every time you slouch. Gandhi explained that “the five-star review on the Lumo Lift says ‘works as advertised.’ You will never find a review for Jawbone or Fitbit that says ‘works as advertised’ because no one knows what they’re advertising.”

With complaints of faulty and uncomfortable hardware and questionable accuracy, many reviews point to a generalized ambivalence toward the device and its utility. Which is exactly how I felt about my own tracking device, six weeks in: Within days, I was ignoring the buzz that was supposed to prompt me to get up from my sedentary state. Within two weeks, I was regularly forgetting to set it to “sleep” mode. My steps leveled out at around 12,000–15,000 a day, but once I knew that number, what value was it to me? Eric Topol, an expert on the future of quantified health care, told me step counting is a “pseudometric,” and he’s not wrong: Finding myself annoyed by step counting made me feel like a pseudoperson.

Still, both Fitbit and Jawbone have hundreds of thousands of users who preach their gospel. But trackers have still penetrated only 3% of the marketplace, and as analysts have predicted, their growth will spike before being overtaken altogether by smartwatches, with the Apple Watch poised to lead the way. By contrast, the next generation of devices will promise ways to think about our bodies and lives in fundamentally more sophisticated, profound, and actionable ways.

Photograph by Jon Premosch for BuzzFeed

To find a company doing this sort of work, I had to go to NASA. Or I at least had to go to the NASA Ames Research Park, where Scanadu occupies one of the buildings where NASA engineers once lived, worked, and stared up at the shuttles constructed across the way. Now the offices feel like a disarming mix of ‘60s industrial and repurposed cool, like hip sandstone bunkers in the beautiful Mountain View sun. At Scanadu, I was greeted by Walter and Sam De Brouwer, the husband and wife team from Belgium (him) and France (her) who are working to build an entire suite of devices that will replace the diagnostic and laboratory components of health care.

The De Brouwers were a charismatic team: Walter had the energy of a teenager, the hair of Einstein, and a habit of creating magnificent turns of phrase and elaborate, learned metaphors — the mad scientist manifest. Sam, by contrast, looked everyone straight in the eye, and spoke with the sort of focus and clarity that reminded me of a family physician. When they couldn’t remember the English word for something technical, they consulted each other in whispered French.

Scandu Scout Photograph by Jon Premosch for BuzzFeed

Sam held a sleek white Star Trek-ish tricorder called the Scanadu Scout to her temple, and showed me as the app on her phone received readings of blood pressure, temperature, blood oxygenation, and more, generating over 560,000 data points in just five seconds. As is, most people have their blood pressure, pulse, and weight recorded at a yearly check-up, if that. The addition of accurate daily data from the Scanadu would combine empirical data from the individual with observed trends within the population; the potential of that sort of combined data is seemingly limitless.

Walter trumpeted the “dashboard” ability of these devices, which will allow a family member to check in on their loved ones when traveling. Simply turn on the app, and you’ll see that your kid, partner, or elderly parent is in good health. It’s not “Big Brother,” he explained, so much as “Big Mother.”

The De Brouwers’ vision matches the one co-opted by hundreds of companies today, most notably in its retreat from the rhetoric of surveillance, which remains redolent with shadowy, nefarious connotations. Users are instead told that they’re “monitoring” themselves, involved in “joyful discovery,” and “liberating their data.” In this way, those who would otherwise recoil at the thought transform into users who are not only willing to participate, but willing to pay for the privilege.

Companies employ interlocking strategies to simultaneously encourage use and distract from the implications. The first, and most obvious, is aesthetics. Self-tracking devices and apps shed the cold, alienating darkness of covert surveillance with warm, sunny colors and clean, “universal” design, reminiscent of an Apple product.

Take Lively, which designs tracking devices that allow “sandwich parents” to monitor aging parents as they stay in their homes (and out of assisted living). Lively is situated in San Francisco’s Presidio, a vast area of rolling green hills now designated a national park and rapidly filling with upstart companies. The offices, in a square, squat house that once served as a military barrack, are filled with light, people talking on the phone with customers, and scattered boxes of Livelys in various stages of packing and shipping.

While other companies aim for hip, active early adopters, Lively’s founders realized that the senior market was almost completely untapped, filled with companies that have prided themselves on their lack of innovation. As co-founder David Glickman told me, the beige plastic devices on cheap metallic chains that currently dominate the market “look like they were designed in the 1970s.”

“If you talk to an elder, they say, ‘I’m not gonna wear it,’” Glickman explained, “because it’s ugly and/or it’s the last signal to the world that they’re old and frail.” By contrast, Lively’s sensors, which house accelerators that, when placed on refrigerator doors, pillboxes, and elsewhere, alert the elder’s adult children of their activity, are white and pleasant to the eye; the Lively watch, which serves a dual function as pedometer and emergency alert, resembles the Apple Watch. As Glickman told me, even the name of the company is intended to change attitudes toward elder care: “This is more about living than it is about ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.’”

Lively products look nothing like the dark, eye-in-the-sky 1984 aesthetic with which surveillance is popularly depicted — a dissociation that extends to its website, which, like the vast majority of the sites for tracking devices and apps, bears a similar aesthetic: The font is rounded, soothing; the sites send you on a seemingly infinite scroll through pictures of happy, fulfilled, healthy-looking users. Even the names of the products themselves attempt to convey some sort of basic humanity: Apart from Scanadu, which embraces its sci-fi otherness, names like “Olive,” “Jaybird,” “Nest,” “Plume,” “Wink,” “Melon,” and “Shadow” imitate Apple’s ability to make the inorganic — the bytes and chips and metal of the computer — into devices that feel like they integrate organically not only with the home, but the body.

It’s one thing to disassociate an object with surveillance. It’s another to get people to start using your product — and using it consistently. For their tracking, Lively had to convince a demographic that hasn’t necessarily resigned themselves to the data trade-off of using sites like Google and Facebook.

Glick explained how the company works with “choosers” to talk to their parents (“users”) about the utility of Lively; tips include having a grandchild do the asking, and emphasizing how it will replace nagging with meaningful conversations. The real clincher, however, is the “LivelyGram” — a packet of printed-out photos and notes, assembled by members of the elder’s network and delivered, via mail, twice a month.

LivelyGrams have been an astounding success, so much so that the vast majority of support calls aren’t about the actual device, but questions about when their next LivelyGram will arrive. However altruistic the aims of Lively may be, it’s also a vivid manifestation of how companies lure trackers, and their data, with promises of pleasing, usually affective benefits, which, at least in LivelyGram’s case, capitalize on elderly users’ loneliness and desire to connect with family as a means of incentivizing self-tracking.

Jawbone offers a study of the somewhat obvious (weather affects your tendency to exercise); MyFitnessPal maps the “Pumpkin Spice Plateau”; Fitbit tracked the cities in which users racked up the most Halloween steps (areas with suburban sprawl) and the most logged Halloween candy (Snickers). These posts employ soft, banal panaceas to make data donation seem fun and meaningful, while simultaneously distracting from the more unsettling ways a company might make use of collected data.

Period-tracking app Glow offers a variation on that concept in the form of Glow First, which, as Jennifer Tye, Glow’s head of marketing and partnerships, enthusiastically explained to me, is basically “crowdsourcing for babies.” Ten couples join the program; each pays $50 for 10 months as they attempt to become pregnant; at the end of those 10 months, the couples who failed to conceive split the “pot” of accumulated money to pay for fertility consultation and treatment.

Glow emphasizes that the program is “not for profit” and simply a means for families to help alleviate the costly burden for those who struggle to become pregnant. At the same time, all users must provide extensive daily logging information in order to participate; the program is “free” and “not for profit” only if you believe that extensive data sets are without monetary value.

In reality, user data is every tracking company’s most precious resource. They promise to provide the user a new way of thinking about their dog, their daily steps, their period, their focus, or their calorie consumption, but they’re also providing the company’s lifeblood — a means to make the product indispensable.

All of these strategies aim to keep users engaged, to further refine the hardware and software. The more active and consistent users, the more data, and the more they retain and attract active and consistent users, who generate even more data. And the more data, the more attractive the company becomes to potential investors and/or buyers. Comprehensive data sets catch the eye of Google and Apple, of course — both of which seem intent on building holistic data sets of consumers — but also big pharma and health insurance providers.

But the real issue — and why observers and investors like Rock Health don’t see Fitbits and Jawbones as the future — is that even more complicated than collecting this information is finding clear ways to make it meaningful.

Photograph by Jon Premosch for BuzzFeed

What if you could advance science by doing nothing at all, save allowing data gleaned from your body — what some call “digital exhaust” — to be aggregated, analyzed, and used to advance modern medicine?

This is yet another way that self-tracking companies incentivize the voluntary “donation” of data — it’s not surveillance, after all, if you’re volunteering for it. In most cases, we even pay for the privilege of providing this information — not to the government, necessarily, but to companies with great power that may or may not be subject to government requests for that information.

This “sharing” is currently being facilitated through corporate wellness programs, in which companies, in conjunction with insurance companies, promise to lower premiums in exchange for data. At Fitbit, corporate wellness is a cornerstone of its business model; it offers programs for small, medium, and “large enterprise” companies with 1,000-plus employees, from BP to Boston College. Participating employees can compete against one another for “points,” reductions in premiums, gifts, and generalized feelings of superiority.

Fitbit promises employers that they’ll “create a culture of well-being,” “improve participant health status,” and “increase worker productivity,” and according to several former and current participants in such programs, they do fulfill at least some of these promises: Corporate competition can become cutthroat, with participants fighting to park the farthest away in the company parking lot.

Many, however, used the Fitbit only until the end of a promotion — or simply stopped using it after a few months. The reason, according to analysts, isn’t that these employees are lazy, or hate fun: It’s that the logic of compulsive tracking and competition employed by Fitbit simply doesn’t work for everyone. As Christine Lemke, co-founder of The Activity Exchange — a startup that facilitates communication between insurance companies, tracking devices, and patients — told me, “A single company buying 30,000 Fitbits is a stupid idea.” The mean drop-off rate for Fitbit usage is 271 days: Some people love it, others hate it — not because there’s something wrong with the Fitbit so much as no single device can be tailored to incentivize wellness in all populations.

Which was probably the overarching problem with my Jawbone: When the battery life became erratic around six weeks in, that was essentially license to take the device off. The novelty had worn off, and as someone who was already active, I wasn’t motivated to do anything new — instead of appreciating its ability to track my steps, I was annoyed at its imprecision in doing so, especially on runs (the same run never tracked the same twice) or while spinning or doing yoga (which it didn’t track at all). I felt cheated, but really I just needed a device better tailored to my specific needs: a Garmin or Basis Watch partnered with apps like MapMyRun and Strava. It’s not that the Jawbone was a bad device so much as it was a bad device for me.

Spire Photograph by Jon Premosch for BuzzFeed

The promises for the future of self-tracking/employer partnerships, however, go far beyond a Jawbone-like fitness tracker and deep into the chronicling of worker productivity: when employees focus best, how they perform in the hour after lunch, how their heart rate jumps during meetings with certain supervisors. This type of data isn’t yet available — it’s contingent upon wide-scale corporate adoption of a device like Spire, which tracks respiration and focus — but representatives from several companies underlined the potential, when implemented through corporate wellness programs, to increase worker productivity. In theory, this wouldn’t be used to discipline employees but to do things like optimize the workplace or gauge the validity of worker’s compensation claims.

For example, the ProGlove, a device that promises to “unlock a new level of control and business intelligence for production management,” also means having proof of the exact muscles and means through which an employee injured themselves and whether a company is on the hook for treatment. Better “business intelligence,” in other words, is actually just more precise and cost-efficient employee monitoring.

As every entity in this space is keen to emphasize, your data is private and, when aggregated by a company for macro-level insights, anonymous. But as scholars have demonstrated, the de-anonymization of data is far from impossible, and most users neglect the lifespan of data: It may be contextualized now, but it may also be decontexualized — and de-anonymized — in the future. A user might sign up for a service with one understanding of its privacy policy only to have it change without warning, as was the case with Moves, which quietly modified its privacy policy to allow for sharing of data with “affiliates” after being acquired by Facebook in April 2014.

When asked whether collaborations with insurance companies might create a new class system — divided between those whose bodies quantify well, and are thus insurable and employable, and those, such as the disabled and differently abled or just plain chronically ill, whose bodies don’t — the companies I interviewed emphasized that the Affordable Care Act would prevent such a scenario. But as this year’s midterm elections yield promises to repeal the central tenets of the ACA, those assurances seem naive, if not disingenuous.

Granted, there’s a legitimate argument that privacy concerns can actually hinder scientific progress, and it’s difficult to hide behind privacy fears when faced with the potential for massive advances in mobile health in the developing world, meaningful decreases in domestic health care costs, and irrefutable reductions in nationwide obesity rates.

Such advances sound great, but for many — especially anyone who’s in relatively good health — they’re fairly abstract. That’s how I felt, at least until Scanadu’s Sam De Brouwer showed me the latest project in their suite of mobile health devices: the Scanaflo, a urinalysis strip.

For the first time, I felt like I was catching a clear, practical glimpse of the future: The user urinates on the strip much like a pregnancy test; the strip then “lights up” 12 different reagents. Take a picture of the reagents with your phone — it works in any light — submit it, and receive a diagnostic in return. It detects pregnancy, of course, but it also detects the proteins present from a urinary tract infection, or UTI — currently responsible for a staggering 10 million doctor visits per year.

If you’ve suffered from a UTI, you understand just how exciting this development is. The pain of the UTI is swift, severe, and an instant wrecker of plans; untreated, it can lead to severe kidney infection and death. But even more importantly, once you’ve had one UTI, the symptoms are instantly recognizable. The Scanaflo has the potential to eliminate hundreds of thousands of doctor visits yearly and unquantifiable amounts of pain — but only if it can go from prototype to widespread practice. Still, it’s a tangible, immediate example of the sort of fundamental change of which these sorts of devices are capable.

Scanadu’s potential is all the more real given that, unlike most other tracking tools, they’ve committed themselves to obtaining FDA approval — a designation that competitor Vital Connect has already obtained. While other devices and apps meticulously track hundreds of inputs, they must all be careful to underline that while their algorithms can suggest a user consult a health care professional, without FDA approval, they simply cannot make any diagnostic claims.

Yet the De Brouwers — and idol-smashing doctors like Eric Topol — don’t see devices replacing our health care system so much as altering the current relationship between patients and doctors, in which the former suffer in relative ignorance, waiting for learned experts to interpret their symptoms, tests, and health history. Scanadu, along with devices like it, aims to redistribute that power differential: “2015 will be the Woodstock of mobile health,” De Brouwer explained to me, “and Eric Topol will burn his stethoscope on stage.”

kGoal Photograph by Jon Premosch for BuzzFeed

Even if self-trackers fail to bring about the Woodstock of mobile health, they will certainly give the user a semblance of power vis-à-vis knowledge of their own bodies, labs, and diagnoses; the potential effects of the democratization of that information isn’t all that different from the spread of the printing press, at least in its capacity to wrest authority from a small swath of educated people and distribute it. This idea is unsettling — a vision of a small army of very anxious, hypochondriac mother-in-laws comes to mind. Yet the spread of any technology, especially ones like the printing press, the train, the telephone, even birth control, that threaten to fundamentally alter the established order of knowledge and society, will always incite a similar reaction.

But advances in health still don’t get to the true appeal of these devices — something that Natasha Dow Schüll, a cultural anthropologist in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, has been thinking about for the last several years. As Schüll told me in her MIT office, littered with discarded and unopened trackers, there are fundamental differences between QS, in which people “design their own algorithms and experiments and report on them to a group,” and “the aisles of Best Buy, where people are buying devices that already have set algorithmic parameter and defaults.”

Most users, in other words, want a frictionless experience that requires as little effort as possible. These passive users’ amenability to inviting devices into their lives — whether health-, home-, or fitness-based — isn’t about generating more data, or a desire to think more critically about their lives. “There’s all this rhetoric of empowerment and taking charge,” Shull said, “but what all of this actually indicates is a desire to not make decisions and choices about our own behavior.” We’re fatigued, in other words, with the sheer amount of decisions that structure the 21st-century life.

In their capacity to tell users what to do — or simply do it for them — these devices exploit thus our collective weariness with the decisions that structure a typical day: Can I have this cookie with lunch? Do I need to bring a tampon to work? Am I doing these squats correctly, what’s the best workout playlist, I feel off, what the hell is wrong with me? Just think how much time you could save if you weren’t thinking elliptically about whether or not you should shell out the $50 co-pay to go to Urgent Care.

In their own advertisements, these devices promise to save you from worry (about your aging parents, about your slouching back) so that you may live life free from technology. As Whistle founder Ben Jacobs told me, monitoring your dog is actually intended to take you away from your phone, generating a space for “quality (screen-less) time.” “Millennials are much more conscious about trying to create happiness,” he said, and “the devices that succeed will be the ones that make you happy.”

The future will be quantified, then, because these devices promise the latest iteration of what we’ve always sought: happiness. Which, at least in the 21st century, doubles as simplicity. A life in which your heartbeat and respiration and location dictate when your house turns off and on; a life in which the guesswork of eating and exercising and the mysteries of our bodies could be eliminated. That promise of ultimate, seamless simplicity — and the happiness that supposedly accompanies it — will be too much, even for the most suspicious and privacy-conscious among us, to resist.

That presumes, however, that happiness is rooted in transparency. That knowledge is a source of peace; that being able to see and send every heartbeat is the ultimate in intimacy. That a life made of data — a life that is readable and, as such, changeable — is life at its most optimized.

Obviously, there are benefits to this optimized, quantified self, not least of which is the ability to make significant medical advances and alter the lives of those suffering from chronic, and often mystifying, illness. But there’s something to be said for the allure and beauty of the mysteries not only of our confusing, previously unknowable bodies, but the intricacies of life. For the daily banalities of tuning the thermostat, or of knowing you had a good night’s sleep because you feel good, not because an app indicated as much. For the pleasure of running without knowing how fast or how long or how many calories but simply because your body could and did move, and that even without a digital trace, a GPS footprint, or way to leverage evidence thereof against friends and co-workers — it nonetheless felt something like being alive.

Facebook For Felons

Kamaal Bennett built a social platform for incarcerated gang leaders. It’s already changing how they see themselves, and the outside world.

Chris Ritter/BuzzFeed News

Early in 2014, Jacqueline Nugent came across an online profile written by Roderick Sutton, her ex-boyfriend and the father of her teenage daughter. Hosted on a website called Live From Lockdown, the profile featured much of the personal information we now regard as the web standard thanks to Facebook: a head shot, a hometown, a nickname, an institution, some groups, an inspirational quote. It also included a long “about me” section that ended with an old social media refrain: a bitter recrimination of an ex — Jacqueline.

I am the father of two queens (daughters). I lost total correspondence with one due to the fact her mother was responsible for my incarceration. She snithched [sic] to the F.B.I because she was scorned about my relationship and fathering a child with another female.

Nugent was shocked: It was the first time she’d heard anything from Sutton in eight years, since her testimony at a 2006 trial helped put him in federal prison for armed robbery. Sutton’s Live From Lockdown profile gave all the details of that incarceration: His sentence (17 years), his time served (eight), his inmate number, and his institution (Allenwood, a medium security prison in Pennsylvania). Angered, Nugent responded to Sutton’s post in the comments:

Take responsibility for you own actions Roderick and stop blaming me for your incarceration! You have learned nothing from your incarceration! Grow up! Honestly you don’t deserve freedom! Your daughter wants nothing to do with you! When you were in the free world you didn’t care about her so don’t write this bullshit on here acting like your some saint that should be granted clemency!

If the shape of this confrontation — a digital reconnection, old grievances opened, an angry back-and-forth — feels familiar, its specifics are anything but: Live From Lockdown is the closest thing on the internet to a social network for federal inmates. Unlike the immediacy of the online networks that have come to dominate American life, Live From Lockdown might best be thought of as slow social, each post a several-stage process that is both ingenious and a reflection of the vast communication barrier between our silent incarcerated nation and our hyperconnected free one.

“Network” is something of a misnomer — federal prisoners have no direct internet access and so the “users” can’t interact directly with each other — and the site’s founder, Kamaal Bennett, calls it a “platform for social engagement.” But in its structure, its aesthetics, and its dissemination, Live From Lockdown looks and feels like any fledgling social network.

Except it’s very small. Right now, Live From Lockdown is comprised of 28 profiles of male inmates in maximum-security federal prisons around America (some, like Sutton, have been moved from maximum- to medium-security facilities). They run the gamut of ages, ethnicities, offenses, affiliations, attitudes. Each prisoner has a simple profile — a picture and identifying information — on top of a feed of blog entries. These entries, which range from dozens of words to many hundreds, tackle subjects inside and outside the prison walls: corrections officers, special housing units, and gangs, but also faith, family, current events, and psychology. Save the focus on prison and gang culture, there isn’t a huge difference between these posts and the kind of long bloggy posts, perhaps written by an eccentric relative or a friend from middle school, which show up in your Facebook feed. Many of the Live From Lockdown posts are uncommonly reflective, self-lacerating, clear-eyed, and eloquent. Some are moving.

Other websites that feature the unedited writing of prisoners exist, notably the Voices From Solitary project, by the anti-solitary-confinement advocacy group Solitary Watch, and Between the Bars, a blogging platform for people in prison that started at the MIT Center for Civic Media. But Live From Lockdown feels different: first, in its lack of an obviously stated advocacy or social justice position; second, in its attention-grabbing aesthetic and tone, from the giant, steel-colored header to the austere prison yard photos, to the rusty bevels that surround them; and third, in the composition of its “users,” who are mostly gang leaders in federal prison.

That’s deliberate. Live’s mission is “to utilize gang leadership as credible messengers to provide an unvarnished view of prison and the harsh reality facing gang members who are behind bars. A message delivered by those best equipped to deliver it to our youth in a way that will ensure the message is received, believed and heeded.” But the self-presentation of the inmates — as complex and weird and vain as anything you’d find on Facebook — makes it much more than Scared Straight.

The site is run entirely by Bennett, a 35-year-old New Jersey nonprofit executive. It’s a part-time job but a painstaking process: Bennett receives profile information and blog entries via traditional mail and CorrLinks, the Federal Bureau of Prison’s proprietary email system, then inputs them manually to the site. Bennett says he tries to add at least one new post a day; he also prints outs and mails the profiles and as many of the posts and comments as he can to the inmates, who have no other way of seeing them. In that sense, it’s an online social network that seems to exist (for the ones who rely on it most) primarily offline.

Some of the posts — which are all embedded with social media sharing widgets — receive hundreds of Facebook likes and dozens of tweets. Others receive dozens of comments. The comments are frequently encouragement from people around the world, but sometimes they come from people who know the inmates quite well.

Chris Ritter/BuzzFeed News

Jaqueline Nugent and Roderick Sutton met as teenagers in Easton, Pennsylvania, in the mid ’90s and fell in love; they had their daughter, Destiny, when Nugent was 18. Sutton sold crack cocaine and ran with a local gang, the Yootie Yoo Crew, and when Sutton went to jail for a few months for threatening a police officer, Nugent sold for him to support Destiny. In 2003 Sutton had a daughter with another woman, and lived a secret double family life, to Nugent’s growing suspicions.

On Jan. 30, 2004, Easton police arrested Sutton outside the condo he shared with Nugent, who, furious at Sutton’s disloyalty, had offered to incriminate him. At trial, Nugent was the federal prosecution’s “star witness,” according to Sutton. Such were the accumulated bad feelings surrounding their first communcation on Live From Lockdown.

Still, Nugent, who had since married, sent Sutton a letter. While Nugent castigated him for refusing to take responsibility for his crimes, she also included a picture of Destiny, and went into detail about their new life. She felt responsible to tell Sutton “what was going on with our daughter.”

Sutton addressed the letter in a series of Live From Lockdown posts called “Understanding,” condensed here:

Just recently I received a kite (letter) that made my understanding much more clear. It also showed me how much this one person had such a profound affect on my life; and I’ve come to– Understand that justification is a way of life in our culture. Something will happen, and we’ll spend endless days, months, even years justifying why it was right or wrong!

Understand YOU are currently acting more as a problem-maker rather than a problem solver. Understand, how can amends be made among ourselves if one is trying to one up the other by throwing shade and things in their face to stir-up emotions and humiliate?

Nugent responded in the comments to one of the posts:

Understand that time is passing and we have all changed.
Understand that some wounds have not healed and probably never will.
Understand that you have hurt me far beyond your understanding.
Understand that I can try and forgive but can never forget.

Kamaal Bennett grew up in East Orange, New Jersey, a gritty Newark suburb known as the birthplace of Blood gang activity on the East Coast. He was the only one of his childhood friends to go to college; one of those friends, a neighbor named Tewhan Butler, eventually became the leader of the notorious Double II Bloods. Butler, who was featured on the History Channel reality series Gangland, is currently serving 30 years in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2007 to racketeering charges that included murder and conspiracy to distribute heroin.

After college and a stint working for the state of Utah during the 2002 Winter Olympics, Bennett moved back to New Jersey, where he started a nonprofit to set up sponsorships for interscholastic athletics in New Jersey cities. That organization grew from four schools in 2006 to a statewide program today.

In 2010, Bennett was spending the day at a program center in Newark, across from a housing project infamous for its gangs, when he noticed adults outside were shrinking away from something. He went outside and discovered what they were avoiding: a group of 11-year-old kids — nascent gang members. Bennett tried to start a conversation with the ringleader, but the boy wouldn’t give his name.

“It was obvious to me what his affiliation was,” Bennett told BuzzFeed News. “I said, ‘Who’s your big homie?’ and he looked at me like, ‘What the hell do you know about that?'”

Despite Bennett’s upbringing, he realized he had no way of reaching the boy, who idolized a local gang leader who had been in prison for years.

“The guy who he was talking about, you would have thought they were best friends — here it was 2011, this kid is 11 years old, how old could he have been the last time this guy was on the street? It’s an urban legend, but that’s who these kids aspire to be. They’re like celebrities.”

For Bennett, that realization was “a lightbulb moment”: The absence of information from maximum-security prisons didn’t erase the cultural influence of incarcerated gang leaders. Instead, it turned them into nearly mythical figures with an incredibly powerful allure for impressionable kids. He reached out to his old friend Butler, by that point serving his sentence at USP Lewisburg, a maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania, and told him that he wanted to reach kids like the ones outside the Newark program center by exposing them to the “authentic and uncensored” voices of the people they idolized, people silenced by, in Bennett’s words, “a dark spot that many people weren’t hearing from.”

Butler agreed, and started writing. His first posts are a series of unsparing essays about his experiences, hopes, and fears as a prisoner. They are harrowing, but not sensational: authentic and uncensored. The third post, “Awakened by Death,” describes Butler witnessing the aftermath of a cellblock murder:

“Stop cuff up now!” yell prison guards.

Though I can’t see, what is taking place is plainly obvious. Understanding that within the confines of this concrete jungle the best line of business is nobody’s business, I stay away from my door and try to begin my daily routine of hygiene etc. Maybe it was the heat, a long-simmering beef, an early morning argument or like the many who now embrace their nightmares because their dreams long ago faded… someone that’s just sick and tired of being sick and tired. Before completing my thoughts, as does the calm before the storm, all stopped- Silence!

Covered in blood from head to toe, out walked a prisoner as reserved as anything I’ve ever seen. What was seen in his eyes said it all and the screams that vibrated throughout the tight-fitted tier confirmed it. Minutes later, a stretcher was pushed down the tier in no hurry for the inmate on top was already blanketed by the sheet that walks you from this life to another.

Chris Ritter/BuzzFeed News

In the months following their reconnection, Roderick Sutton and Jacqueline Nugent kept up their exchange over Live From Lockdown. It followed a pattern: Sutton would write something mixing conciliation and rancor, and Nugent would follow up in the comments in a similar tone. Often, the topic was Destiny, who Sutton refers to by her middle name, Sadesia. In a post titled “Is this woman scorned justified?” Sutton wrote:

I’ve finally accepted my actions and reactions years ago! My hate, bitterness and contempt also subsided years ago! For what it’s worth, I AM SORRY for the hurt I’ve caused others, including Sadesia! MAYBE SOMEONE NEEDS TO DO THE SAME! WHY IS THIS SOMEONE STILL TRYING TO TEAR ME DOWN?! YOU’RE CONTRIBUTING TO THE DESTRUCTION! LIVE YOUR LIFE POSITIVE! That’s what Live From Lockdown is about. This isn’t Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, or Youtube. Save all that negativity for those sites!

In the comments, Nugent responded:

Congratulations,but action speak much, much louder than words…. I am happy you received my letter and commenting now on your lockdown live. Nothing in my letter was negative at all make this clear and I wrote you a letter on my thoughts. I am older and wiser now as I hope you are….Oh and btw(by the way) I love your title a bit negative isn’t it? I was scorned by you honestly didn’t I have a right to be? You had almost ruined a very good women! But a great man came along and helped that women be great! Thank my husband for that amongst other things like raising your daughter. She is not a trip in the park but he does a great job as her step father. I truly hope you are a grown man now with all these qualities you say you have and hopefully learned alot about this experience…

Sutton’s next post, “Mission Impossible?” was even more openly contrite:

About seven or eight years into my bid I realized who and what the fuck I had become!! I realized I had put a lifestyle above what should’ve been royalty to me, my family, particularly my daughters!

In the comments of “Mission Impossible?”, Nugent posted a picture of Sutton’s two daughters, standing arm in arm and smiling. Several years after Sutton went to prison, Nugent became friends with the mother of his other daughter, and the two girls became friends. Nugent added a caption to the photo:

Regardless how I have felt about anything you have done to me I made sure they know each other and have a relationship.

Shortly after she posted the photo, Nugent received a letter in the mail addressed to Destiny, from Roderick. It was 25 pages long.

Tewhan Butler’s writing on Live From Lockdown proved popular, and early analytics showed the majority of the site’s traffic came from mobile devices. That was an encouraging sign: Black and Latino kids in the poor neighborhoods Bennett wanted to reach, whose families frequently can’t afford computers, may get their only internet access through smartphones. (It may have also been a sign that inmates themselves, who frequently, and illegally, gain access to contraband phones, were reading the site from prisons.)

Still, Bennett knew it wasn’t enough. To effectively reach vulnerable kids around the country, he needed representatives on the site from different regions and different gangs. He talked to Butler.

“I said, ‘Listen, if we’re really gonna have the impact we’re looking to have, we have to get other people from other affiliations here. ‘Cause the kid who’s a Latin King might not tune in to what you have to say.'”

Due to his status as a high-profile gang leader, Butler was being held in the Special Management Unit at USP Lewisburg, which houses, as Bennett told BuzzFeed News, “1,000 or so of the most influential or disruptive inmates in the federal system.” That gave him easy access to important inmates with different stripes. Ironically, this kind of cooperation was probably only possible in prison, where gang rivalries are often put on hold and hostilities frequently take racial dimensions.

That’s how Bennett built out Live From Lockdown: on a referral basis, thanks to the initial efforts of a particularly charismatic prisoner. And it’s still how it works today. Interested inmates send Bennett a request via CorrLink, and Bennett sends approved new “users” a welcome letter and asks them to write a brief biography. Compared to the instant, or near-instant verification processes social media users are accustomed to, this half-digital, half-physical system, built on actual relationships, trust, and discretion seems almost shockingly arduous. Given the degree to which the voices of incarcerated Americans are segregated from the national conversation, however, it feels nearly miraculous.

The initial goal of Live From Lockdown was to bring those voices to at-risk kids — and the site still has that element. But it also proved valuable for another at-risk group: the inmates themselves. Prison reform advocates — and prisoners — frequently point to the act of writing as an invaluable form of therapy for the incarcerated, especially for inmates in max prisons and segregation units, in which programs are strictly limited because of security concerns.

“It is is a source of sanity for people who are desperately clinging to it in an environment that is designed to deprive you of your personality and your humanity and ultimately your sanity,” said Jean Casella, the co-founder of Solitary Watch.

The site’s profiles serve both as connections to the outside world — stories like Roderick Sutton’s are not unique — and, maybe even more significantly, affirmations of their subjects’ existences, rare sources of pride. Some of the inmates involved with Live From Lockdown hang printouts of their profiles on their cell walls.

That self-expression can have consequences. In February 2013, an inmate at USP Canaan, in Pennsylvania, fatally stabbed a corrections officer. Soon after, Tewhan Butler wrote a post for Live From Lockdown titled “Inmate Reaction To Killing Of Corrections Officer At USP Canaan”:

A lot of things transpire between inmate and C.O. as a result blatant disrespect. Just two days ago, I was locked up and going through a normal search, which I had no problem with, when the C.O. demanded that I take my boots off outside. Looking at the bigger picture and not wanting to allow them to trap me off, I complied and began taking off my boots, one boot at a time, and handing them to the C.O.

When done searching my last boot, he removes the insole of my shoe, then throws my boot in a different direction and commands me to pick them up. This was in no way a possibility for me, as I am nobody’s “lil boy”. My refusal landed me in the hole. As you can see I’m out, but I ask- Do you honestly believe the blatant disrespect was warranted? Absolutely not! But we prisoners have nobody to turn to. We can only suck it up and move on, or allow the mental games to be played and find ourselves in more of a situation. This is in no way to say that what transpired at USP Canaan in Pennsylvania and resulted in the death of a corrections officer and Bureau of Prisons employee on Monday was justified. I’m just saying some of these corrections officers lack serious professional skills.

According to Bennett, the post landed Butler back in solitary.

Still, given the sensitive nature of the posts on Live From Lockdown, Bennett has had surprisingly little contact with prison officials. He knows that the Federal Bureau of Prisons monitors the site because his analytics show traffic coming from the Department of Justice. Though the FBOP doesn’t have any kind of official stance on Live From Lockdown, Bennett has heard privately from prison officials. “They said, ‘What you’re doing is a good thing,'” he said.

Chris Ritter/BuzzFeed News

On Nov. 1, Kamaal Bennett published a post by Roderick Sutton to Live From Lockdown titled “A Princess to a Queen.” It was all about Destiny:

On November 3, she will turn sixteen and my little princess who I once knew is becoming a little queen who I barely know anymore. Out of these sixteen years, I’ve only been there for three of them! Her birth year, and her third and fourth years!

We incarcerated “fathers” are mere ghosts. I’m no exception! We are the source of our own destruction, and we are to DUMB, DEAF, and BLIND to that fact because we are immersed in the “street life” and crave “street cred”! Not many will dare to admit if they truly miss or care about their kid(s) because that’s not “KEEPING IT REAL” in prison!


Jaqueline Nugent responded soon after, in the comments:

Just to let you know she received your letter and she is still reading it. She told me it has given her a better understanding of a lot of things. She also says thank you for her birthday cards. I guess this is a start for you two.


Tewhan Butler was found guilty of racketeering charges including the Oct. 19, 2000 murder of Robin Dwayne Thompson at a gasoline station in East Orange.An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Butler was found guilty of racketeering charges including the July 25, 2002 murder of LaQuan Brooks in front of his 8-year-old son. BF_STATIC.timequeue.push(function () { document.getElementById(“update_article_correction_time_4535684″).innerHTML = UI.dateFormat.get_formatted_date(‘2014-12-21 14:58:20 -0500′, ‘update’); });

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/josephbernstein/facebookforfelons

VP: disease spreads with ‘blinding speed'; but no travel restrictions


Sometimes you have to wonder if anyone at the White House compares the prepared remarks to what’s happening in the news.

"In a globalized world, threats as diverse as terrorism and pandemic disease cross borders at blinding speeds." -VP Biden

— Vice President Biden (@VP) October 2, 2014

Um … Joe, you might want to call your office. Your boss doesn’t seem to get that.  ‘Good freaking grief': Disbelief after WH deems Ebola-related travel restrictions unnecessary

Again, it’s more difficult to bring a piece of fruit from the Bahamas to the US than it is ebola from outbreak areas http://t.co/6WEjXjgF7I

— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) October 2, 2014

White House: We don't need Ebola travel restrictions http://t.co/expnCClXHo

— Phx Ken (@PhxKen) October 2, 2014

@VP This is why it should not be business as usual on who we allow to enter our country via a airline flight.

— Jimmy Vegas (@jimmyvegas337) October 2, 2014

@VP Well… No shit, Sherlock… Aren't you the smart one…

— Milt Jowers (@BenReclused) October 2, 2014

At least some people in Washington are interested in getting ahead of the problem.

US Rep. Renee Ellmers and US Senate candidate Thom Tillis seek travel restrictions on countries with Ebola outbreaks http://t.co/zFyR5igSUv

— newsobserver.com (@newsobserver) October 2, 2014

.@SenTedCruz prods FAA for travel restrictions to keep #Ebola out of US http://t.co/4xTzBlFwBd #DallasEbola

— Todd J. Gillman (@toddgillman) October 2, 2014

Unfortunately the “experts” disagree.

.@DrFriedenCDC: Isolating countries through travel restrictions would make it more diff to help control outbreak & put US at greater risk

— Ram Ramgopal (@RamCNN) October 2, 2014

Imposing quarantine on entire nations would backfire and fuel the #Ebola epidemic. #CDCchat

— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrFriedenCDC) October 2, 2014


“Restricting” travel doesn’t have to mean completely isolating a country.



News chopper caught Ebola clean-up crew; Um. Notice anything missing? (It’s enraging) [photo]

Stop! Dana Loesch accused of ‘promoting xenophobia’ for Ebola concern

CDC director says hospitals ‘must’ comply with CDC’s Ebola guidelines

What might prompt WH to ban flights from Ebola outbreak countries? Jim Geraghty nails it

Read more: http://twitchy.com/2014/10/02/vp-disease-spreads-with-blinding-speed-but-no-travel-restrictions/