In January we started asking ourselves, “How many people self-track?” It was an interesting question that stemmed from our discussion with Susannah Fox about the recent Pew report on Tracking for Health. Here’s a quick recap of the discussion so far.
The astute Brian Dolan of MobiHealthNews suggested that the Pew data on self-tracking for health seems to show constant – not growing – participation. According to Pew, in 2012 only 11% of adults track their health using mobile apps, up from 9% in 2011.
All this in the context of a massive increase in smartphone use. Pew data shows smartphone ownership rising 20% just in the last year, and this shows no signs of slowing down. Those smartphones are not just super-connected tweeting machines. They pack a variety of powerful sensors and technologies that can be used for self-tracking apps. We notice a lot of people using these, but our sample is skewed toward techies and scientists.
What is really going on in the bigger world? How many people are actually tracking?
A few weeks ago ABI, a market research firm, released a report on Wearable Computing Devices. According to the report there will be an estimated 485 million wearable computing devices shipped by 2018. Josh Flood, the analyst behind this report indicated that they estimated that 61% of all devices in wearable market are fitness or activity trackers. “Sports and fitness will continue to be the largest in shipments,” he mentioned “but we’ll start to see growth in other areas such as watches, cameras, and glasses.”
One just needs to venture into their local electronics retailer to see that self-tracking devices are becoming more widespread.
So why are our observations out of synch with the Pew numbers?
“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” Lord Kelvin
“Asking science to explain life and vital matters is equivalent to asking a grammarian to explain poetry.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Of course the quantified self movement with its self-tracking, body hacking, and data-driven life started in San Francisco when Gary Wolf started the “Quantified Self” blog in 2007. By 2012, there were regular meetings in 50 cities and a European and American conference. Most of us do not keep track of our moods, our blood pressure, how many drinks we have, or our sleep patterns every day. Most of us probably prefer the Taleb to the Lord Kelvin quotation when it comes to living our daily lives. And yet there are an increasing number of early adopters who are dedicated members of the quantified self movement.
“They are an eclectic mix of early adopters, fitness freaks, technology evangelists, personal-development junkies, hackers, and patients suffering from a wide variety of health problems. What they share is a belief that gathering and analysing data about their everyday activities can help them improve their lives.”
According to Wolf four technologic advances made the quantified self movement possible:
“First, electronic sensors got smaller and better. Second, people started carrying powerful computing devices, typically disguised as mobile phones. Third, social media made it seem normal to share everything. And fourth, we began to get an inkling of the rise of a global superintelligence known as the cloud.”
I’ve been interested in the growing population of folks who self-track objective data for health purposes. The phenomenon is referred to either as personal informatics or the Quantified Self. Both concepts have a following and both are intimately tied into the value of connected health. Connected Health adds value in two fundamental ways: self–care and just-in-time care. In both cases, objective, quantified data is a critical piece of success. For those individuals who are even a bit motivated to improve their health, quantified, objective information leads to insights that prompt behavior change.
I had a chance the other day to catch up with Gary Wolf, who is one of the founders of Quantifiedself.com, a frequent contributor to the New York Times Sunday Magazine and a Contributing Editor at Wired. We had an inspiring discussion about the intersections of Quantified Self and Connected Health.
Gary was a bit out of breath, having just wrapped up the first Quantified Self Conference in Mountain View, CA. Gary was very excited about the conference and its impact. More than 100 projects were presented, 60 talks were given and more than 25% of participants presented. When I asked him what was ‘the hook,’ i.e. why is QS taking off so fast, his response was that, “people are reaching the realization/hope that personal data have personal meaning.” We both agree that the growing interesting in quantification is bringing us beyond the ‘data is geeky’ stage to an era where there is a real movement around the collection of data and the use of that data to gain insight about health and affect behavior change.Continue reading…