The ‘Quantified Self’, a term coined by Kevin Kelly and Gary Woolf, editors of Wired Magazine, refers to the process of collecting and analysing personal data relating to physical and cognitive health over a sustained period of time. Since 2007, the Quantified Self as a company and movement has steadily gained a following of users and developers of self tracking apps and devices. These users believe that quantifying oneself can improve personal well being but also have a impact on the future of scientific progress when this data is aggregated and researched on a large scale.
What sort of self-tracking tools are on the market today?
Devices for the personal acquisition of data were originally rather simple. A basic pedometer for example measures the movement of the hips to count how many steps you have taken each day. The usefulness, however, of this device in terms of measuring fitness levels is limited. Technological advances in recent years have brought about increasingly sophisticated and comprehensive ways of tracking various indicators of overall health, including body temperature, blood pressure, sleep, cholesterol and heart rate. With the rising use of smartphone apps around the world, for many people these tools are only a few clicks away. Below are just a few of the most popular apps and devices on the market today.
Self Tracking Apps
RunKeeper – one of the most popular fitness apps today, RunKeeper uses GPS to keep track of your exact route, time taken, top speed and average pace.
MoodPanda – simply rate your mood on a scale from 0-10, perhaps accompanied by a tweet about what is influencing your mood. Check your graphs to see how your mood changes and connect with MoodPanda’s online community to see who else is feeling the same way and why.
24/7 Activity Tracking Devices
Nike+ Fuelband –tracks all physical activity during the day and converts this into NikeFuel. The more you walk, run, cycle, the more NikeFuel you will be rewarded with. Keep up with your friends and compete with them to earn more fuel.
Up by Jawbone – similar to the Fitbit Flex, this wristband is among the more holistic self-tracking devices on the market, with an emphasis on encouraging movement and a healthy routine (the wristband has an idle alarm which vibrates if you sit still for too long). Jawbone Up also connects with other apps on your smartphone, making your Quantified Self experience as simple or detailed as you wish.
What are the real benefits of self-tracking tools?
Some of us may obtain personal data purely for fun or curiosity’s sake. This applies especially to sleep monitoring apps, which provide information previously very difficult to acquire for ourselves. These statistics, however, when collated and presented in a meaningful way can reveal interesting trends in our lifestyle. While in the beginning, QS tools focused on one aspect of health, more and more are taking a holistic approach in monitoring our psychological and physical state. Self-tracking is about finding correlations; how are your drinking habits affecting your mood? Does exercise make you sleep more deeply? Jawbone Up for example has an ‘Insight Engine’ where you can ‘discover hidden patterns and connections in your day to day activities’. Rather than relying on general health advice, this set of data can then be used as a solid basis for altering your activities and improving your overall health as a unique individual.
What does the future hold for the Quantified Self?
In a TED talk, held last year, Yuri Van Geest predicts that in twenty years time doctors will no longer be necessary as self diagnostic tools which analyse blood samples, urine and saliva will be faster and more accurate than visiting your local GP. Treatment can then be administered using 3D printers. Soon personal DNA profiles will be easily attainable and when combined with precise data on environmental factors, will not only help treat existing health problems but also reveal information on what sort of problems we are more susceptible to, allowing us to take preventative measures. This may be particularly beneficial for athletes, for example, in preventing sports injuries. DNA and neurological profiles will not only be used to personalise drugs and medical treatment but cosmetic products too.
What are the potential concerns in a world of Quantified Us?
Serious doubts have arisen over the usefulness of the Quantified Self. Many people believe that as it stands, the charts generated using self-tracking tools are misleading and not advanced enough to portray an accurate depiction of our health and fitness levels. Weight loss is not as simple as ‘calories in and calories out’ and low intensity exercise such as walking wont necessarily make a difference to your waistline. In the future, some fear the Quantified Self could be taken too far. Information combining DNA profiles and data from self-tracking tools could be used to influence life decisions involving education, employment and even what sort of people to date. Insurance companies might be among the first to demand access to our Quantified Self. But would we really want to sacrifice our privacy so completely for a cheaper deal?
For more information on the Quantified Self and affiliated companies www.quantifiedself.com