Earlier this week I went along to the Quantified Self London meet up. The London group is organised by Adriana Lukas and attracted some 40 or so people who were eager to understand more about the concept of self improvement through the analysis of habits, behaviours, and other personal data.
The meet up was run as a show and tell type session and we heard from four people with plenty of Q&A throughout. One of the experiences shared was from someone telling the story of how through capturing and monitoring his weight on a twice daily basis he was able to use that data as a tool to help encourage him to lose weight. Another was from someone who'd built an OSX application to allow you to track productivity - there were some reasonably complex algorithms in the application which ultimately allowed you to see a graph of the current day's productivity mapped against previous days.
Attendees of the meet up seemed to range from those who'd used the concept of collecting data about themselves to resolve problems or better their lifestyle, through to entrepreneurial types who were interested in building products and applications to assist in the collection and analysis of data. There were also a few people like me who'd really just come along to find out what it was all about.
I'd first heard the term Quantified Self through Gary Wolf's TED talk in September 2010 and feeling a little bit worried about what it meant to have all this personal information floating about. In the pub after the meet up the topic of where personal data should sit and the merits of making it available was discussed - it seemed that everyone felt that security and trust in who could see the data would be crucial in making the concept a success. If you missed the TED talk, it's at the bottom of the post.
After the meet up I began thinking about how I might benefit from Quantified Self. I remember a while ago, when I was a keen athlete (ha, the term 'athlete' to describe me now is laughable!) I used to meticulously monitor my heart rate during training sessions, plotting against it my mood, diet and external conditions such as weather and location. However being keen but still very much amateur this data tended to just sit on my computer as I had neither the time nor expertise to do anything with it.
Now my habits have changed, I've no idea where my heart rate monitor is any more, my once and sometimes twice a day training sessions have been replaced with things like work and going to gigs and hanging out with friends.
But I do still capture and monitor certain aspects of my life. For example – music that I listen to is scrobbled to my LastFM profile and places that I've been captured on Foursquare. Perhaps this falls more into a small element of Lifeblogging then that of Quantified Self? Either way I am still very much in the same situation I was with my heart rate data back in 1990s - the data is there but I'm not doing anything with it.
But maybe I should. Maybe in analysing the type of music I listen to when I'm at certain locations might reveal something? Or perhaps if I were to capture my mood, or a measure of daily productivity I'd be able to determine that say, listening to some Adebisi Shank on the way into work resulted in a more productive me? And maybe thats the difference between lifeblogging and Quantified Self, in the latter you are actually learning something from the data and doing something to make an improvement. When thinking of it like that the term "self hacking" (coined by Adriana) makes much more sense.
Of course analysing the music I listen to mapped against my mood would be of very little interest to anyone other than myself. But when you think of scenarios such as the one mentioned in the TED talk - monitoring the time and location of asthma inhaler pump usage - that could be of considerable interest. Especially if you imagined a scenario of all asthma suffers in London having their inhalers equipped with a GPS transceiver and each time a pump was used it appeared on a map to help articulate 'hot spots'.
This idea of making the information available is where Quantified Self gets interesting for me. In the same way that my training information was stuck, unshared, on my computer, if anyone is collecting data about themselves then by not sharing it they are missing out on some important opportunities - collective learning from others, contribution to a wider pool of knowledge and the encouragement and motivation they'd get from knowing others may also be monitoring what they're doing.
This is certainly an area I'm interested in learning more about, and if it sparks an interest with you I'd recommend taking a look at the Quantified Self website, and heading along to one of the meet ups.
Gary Wolf: Ted Talk on Quantified Self