The courts of ancient Athens were inscribed with a phrase which some attribute to Socrates: “Know Thyself.” These days, self-knowledge, a quintessential component of justice, psychology and literature, is utilized in a whole new field made possible by the integration of various trackers, sensors and data collection devices into our daily lives. Quantified Self brings “know thyself” to health.
It is now possible to track weight, steps, sleep, mood and food with virtually no effort save stepping on a scale, responding to an app’s push notification or taking a photo of your meal. An emerging community for self-trackers is called Quantified Self. The annual QS Conference took place Sept 15 - 16, 2012 at Stanford University. Over 600 QSers gathered to share their self-knowledge through numbers, including four members of the Wikilife team.
Quantified Self’s community is a hybrid of well-known health tool makers like FitBit and Zeo, augmented with hackers and curious tinkerers who go to great lengths to explore how to understand and eventually hack their health.
The event consisted of a series of plenary sessions, breakouts and “show & tells,” where QSers share their self-quantifications. The guidelines for show & tell are simple: share what you did, why you did it and what you learned. Presentations ranged from gamified computer chairs that prompt a user to pedal a foot bike to controlled trials of the impact of caffeine to a device that vibrates to remind you to sit up straight and even a talk about Quantified Curiosity by yours truly.
One of the most interesting QS experiments came not from a presentation but a dinner conversation. A gentleman from Portland shared how he measures stress by heart rate variability and consequently trains himself to recognize and avert stress before it hits.
“When your body is in a relaxed state, your heart rate naturally oscillates between faster and slower beats per minute,” he explained. “On the other hand, when you are stressed, variation between heart beats per minute drops to almost zero. To find out when I was getting stressed, I hooked up an earlobe heart rate monitor through a USB port into my Mac, where I set up a second monitor that would flash red if I surpassed a certain threshold of stress.” Over time, he was able to learn both what caused him stress as well as how to preempt stress before its physiological effects set in. This is one example of many that showcases how real-time data feedback can change not only one’s self knowledge but also facilitate actions tied to that knowledge.
Not all the talks were about an individual’s experiments. Wikilife Founder Daniel Nofal presented our tool at the first noon plenary session to rave reviews. A video will be live soon so for now check out Sacha Chua’s sketchnotes of his talk, which debuted Wikilife to the Quantified Self community as the open-source, open-data tool to collect, compile and compare any and all forms of QS data.
QS2012 was an eye-opening experience. Most people use multiple apps and devices to track various metrics like sleep, exercise and meditation. Many do not have access to their data outside the tracking platform and are generally unable to cross reference it. The most prevalent data management tools are spreadsheets or databases which result in time-intensive reformatting if one wishes to get an overall picture of one’s health. Many people are unable to integrate their data, let alone compare how they stack up against a broader population. Wikilife meets the need for a universal, open tool that allows people to derive intelligence from QS data. We have created an easy way for QSers of all technological skill levels to understand their data. Download the app and let us know what you think. If you are a developer, contact us to find out about integrating WL share into your health tracking tool (http://wikilife.org/contact/).
Quantified Self is the start of a revolution in personal health. Voltaire said “with great power comes great responsibility.” We are entering an information rich era that necessitates each individual play a leadership role in his or her health. In a world of information overload, living well without personal health data intelligence makes wise choices increasingly difficult. How do you know what works best for you? How can you find and employ strategies that help you adopt healthy habits and lifestyle changes?
Organizations like Wikilife rise to the challenge and deliver you the most complete package of contextualized personal health information. Imagine a future where you can visualize a composite of your health. Your great responsibility of personal health will be augmented by a system of intelligence made possible by quantified self-data. And even more, if you choose, your data can feed into a global repository, assisting researchers and establishing baselines for complex health and lifestyle data. This is an innovation like nothing the world has ever known.
Living well need not be a journey you embark upon alone. At QS2012 we saw first hand how sharing accelerates innovation. There is a community of people who thrive by self-knowledge. These Quantified Self’ers are already changing the world of health. You, too, can get a jump on the future of health by joining a community of people who strive to achieve knowledge through numbers in the quest to discover answers to the ever evolving question of how to live a healthy, happy life. Sign up or create a QS Meetup in your area today and lead the change we need to see in the world.