Posts Tagged self-tracking

“Quantified Self” Gets Bigger/Hotter

Last night I helped out with the 13th Quantified Self Meetup at Langton Labs. I love this event! About 100 nerds gather and show off their latest self-tracking projects. I’ve presented the Archive twice now, however, most of the presentations are on quantitative data tracking rather than my qualitative stuff. Projects are all quite different yet they highlight that you don’t need to be in a lab to assess what is going on with your body.

Tracking physiological metrics over time produces visible trends that can illuminate poor health choices, facilitate better decision-making and can eventually reduce or eliminate costs associated with managing conditions that have become chronic. For example, last night my friend Matt Bell did his second talk on sleep tracking. The first talk discussed his observations after filming himself over the course of a year using infrared video, this time he hooked himself up to an EEG and tracked his levels of sleep through brain wave activity. Through this process he discovered he was a physically active sleeper, that sleeping with someone did not produce the most restful sleep BUT it did reduce sleep latency which is the time it takes to fall asleep.

Many of the behavioral tracking projects seem to have an almost quantum effect on the tracker in that by merely observing the behavior it can often change the behavior itself. For example, very few of us really know how much we eat until we track calories in. Observing the sheer numbers is often enough to influence how and what the tracker then consumes.

Self tracking has been around for quite some time in one form or another but the Quantified Self movement seems to be gaining momentum, especially as people start taking more control of their health choices. One of the founders, Gary Wolf, just penned an article in the NY Times last month describing the movement which now has a growing following in New York as well. It will be interesting to see how these personal projects creep into the mainstream over time as they inspire others to start recording behaviors.

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My Dream 3D User Interface

One of the slides from my presentation.

Frankly, I’ve pretty much reached the point of exhaustion with tracking my life through the Archive. It’s been over a decade of meticulously shooting, collecting, prepping, organizing and assembling as many data channels as possible into a single “scrapbook on crack” stream. At 19 volumes, this project that has fed most of my OCD tendencies, needs to take on a new form so that I can get on with my life.

I didn’t fully realize what I needed in an interface to execute this phase change until I was intensely interviewed (for 3 hours) last November by a team from Jump Associates. Apparently I met the requirements for an “extreme user” of notebook documentation and thus made the perfect subject to probe for ideas. The session turned into therapy for me as I dolled out all my “in a perfect world” scenarios for documenting my life.

The key take-away for me was that this new interface MUST be tangible. If I can’t move stuff around with my hands, feel textures, physically arrange images/ideas/data in a space, then it just ain’t gonna work for me.

The problem is that the technology just hasn’t fully arrived yet. But there is some cool stuff out there for content access (a la Minority Report, but called the g-speak spatial operating environment) and for content entry/interaction (who hasn’t seen Pattie Maes & Pranav Mistry’s TED talk from last year?).

The questions is, how do you combine these technologies (instant tangible data entry with instant tangible data access)? I want to gather information, sort it, rank it, edit it and then store it in the appropriate category all within a few simple moves. In fact, maybe I could turn it into an interpretive dance…

I’m going to speak about this during the Quantified Self Meet-Up next Wednesday the MedHelp offices at 927 Market Street.

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