When I moved to Ireland in 2007, I began to have skin problems. It began gradually and I attributed it to the move, to stress, to late nights drinking with developers and clients, to travel, to whatever excuses I could think of. The stress was multiplied by the anxiety of being embarrassed about how my face looked, but also because my new job in Ireland involved me being on stage in front of large audiences constantly, often several times a week. A year later my skin was perpetually inflamed, red, full of sores and very painful. When one spot would go away, two more would spring up in its place. It was a tough time. I cried a lot.
Frustrated, I went to see my hometown dermatologist while I was home for holidays. He told me that a) this was completely normal and b) there was nothing I could do but go on antibiotics for a year (in addition to spending a fortune on creams and pills). I didn’t believe either of those things.
I was not interested in being on an antibiotic for a year, nor was I interested in Accutane (my best friend has had it multiple times and it hasn’t had long term results, plus it can be risky). What I was interested in was figuring out why this was happening and changing my life to make it stop. I refused to accept my dermatologist’s insistence that what you put in your body has no effect on how you look and feel.
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…
The Quantified Self is a global collaboration of users and tool-makers interested in the personal meaning of personal data. There are now Quantified Self groups in more than twenty cities around the world. Our inspiration is the Homebrew Computer Club. Once upon a time, computers were thought to be useful only for scientists, managers, and planners. But a few people saw things differently: they argued that computers were for all of us. That notion seemed very strange. What would an ordinary person do with a computer? But it turned out that the personal uses of computers were not just an important use, but the most important use.
We at the Quantified Self think of data the same way. Nearly every day, we hear about a new system to track human behavior. There is sensor-based tracking of sleep, activity, location, heart rate, blood glucose, metabolism, even facial expression. There are web services to track mood, diet, menstrual cycle, productivity, and cognition. (This is just a sample, to give a sense of range, and not an endorsement of any particular approach.) Often, when I talk to my friends in the health care field, they are eager to know how exploring these tools might be justified in conventional health care terms: return on investment, treatment outcomes, patient compliance, etc. This managerial view of data is part of the important conversation that happens every day on the The Health Care Blog. But for the remainder of this post, I’d like to ask you put these questions aside. Seeing something of the big culture change happening outside health care might prove useful for solving some of the seemingly intractable problems inside it.
There are three reasons people track themselves:
They have a specific goal, such as losing weight, keeping fit, sleeping better, ameliorating a chronic condition, or training for an athletic competition.
They are generally curious. Surprisingly often, people find their tracking data valuable even in the absence of narrowly-defined utility. These self-trackers see their data as a kind of mirror on the self, helpful in maintaining overall self-awareness. (Like keeping a diary.)
They want to establish a baseline with which to measure future changes. This often goes along with a belief that the data will become more powerful over time. Personal data, in this sense, is an investment that will pay off in the future, and is part of an exploratory, pioneering worldview.Continue reading…