Quantified Self: Fading Fad or Fabulous Future?

By 1st February 2016Internet of Things

Everywhere you turn today, the media, friends, colleagues, and businesses are talking about using technology to collect data about oneself (ie. Self Quantification). Whether it’s fitness trackers and bands, Instagram, wearables like google glasses, productivity apps, Netflix or smart cars. We are tracking footsteps, places visited, friends seen, links followed, calories, chews, posture, hours, minutes, even sexual prowess. But what exactly is this amorphous blob called the “Quantified Self” and does it have a future?

That is what Smart Design, a global design and innovation consultancy and digital intelligence expert, Lawrence Ampofo, set out to discuss in a recent workshop entitled: Explore the Future of the Quantified Self.

The meetup brought researchers, designers, programmers, creatives and business strategists together to explore:

  1. What is the Quantified Self?
  2. Why the hype?
  3. Is it here to stay or simply a fading fad?

I participated from a service design and business perspective, and also with the secret hope of discovering the “perfect” energy management app (ie. time keeping meets mood tracking meets productivity enhancement)

Quick Conclusion: Self-quantification is here to stay and it will be increasingly embedded in our products, services and environment. But it is yet to be seen how helpful it will be. The hype is caused by the constant tension between (A) the great promise of better health, productivity and general improvement through self-knowledge and (B) the simple reality that we value many things that cannot be measured, like enjoyment, and translating a metric into behavior change is not easy or automatic.

Self quantifiers typically either log or track data to capture memories and achieve goals. Logging is about recording events to reflect back. For example, logging pictures of food, places, events, experiences on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. Tracking is about saving data to follow progress in order to achieve a specific goal. For example, tracking your steps, runs, sleep with Fuel band, Jaw bone and various apps.

Self quantifiers typically either log or track data to capture memories and achieve goals. Logging is about recording events to reflect back. For example, logging pictures of food, places, events, experiences on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. Tracking is about saving data to follow progress in order to achieve a specific goal. For example, tracking your steps, runs, sleep with Fuel band, Jaw bone and various apps.

What

Smart Designers, Jessi and Nate, gave an excellent overview to define the Quantified Self. Essentially, it is about self-monitoring and self-assesing for self-knowledge. It is all “About Me”.

Some great insights from Smart’s research:

  • Two key behaviors: Log and Track
  • The lines between logging and tracking are blurring.
  • Time and location are powerful memory triggers, and photos are a constant data point.
  • People’s goals are always changing, so services and products need to change with people’s goals.

It also raises many questions….

  • What is the meaning of all this data? How do we benchmark?
  • What is the value of data for the larger self? What do I own?
  • Are we missing out on real experiences by being so connected?
  • What is the business opportunity?

Why the Hype?

Lawrence Ampofo dug into business, privacy and the digital mind:

1. The QS Fad. There is an emerging technology ecosystem in which QS will be interwoven everywhere. In a few years no one will talk about QS, it will simply be a seamless part of the ecosystem. SeeiBeacon and Connected Cars.

Federico Zannier makes a bold statement to take ownership of his data by selling it on Kickstarter.

Snapchat customers willingly gave their information because they trusted they had control over its access.Who Has Your Back?

2. The Reverse Panopticon effect. Today, we send data into the ether-sphere, knowing that some one/thing has access to it. They see us, but we don’t see them. More privacy may seem like the natural answer, but claiming people want more privacy is a misconception. Most people want to benefit from their data, to have control over it, transparency and trust over its uses. The “reversal effect” takes place when we are able to use our data to look back into the cloud of megalithic data collectors like government, businesses and global causes, to increase accountability transparency, and efficiency.

Spectrum of digital mindfulness.

3. Digital Mindfulness. The uberconnected vs. the disconnected. Do we risk missing out on life by being hyper connected to our devices? Is there a happy medium and what does it look like?

These two articles look at the pros and cons of our digital measuring..

Digital Craze

“If I’m on a call and my voice gets over 50 decibels, my phone notifies me. My heart rate after a conference call usually can give me better insight into the call and my feelings about the call.”

— Chris Dancy “The Quantified Man”

Digital Mindfulness..?

Chronos helps find how you are spending your time without lifting a finger. (picture below)

Spreadsheets brings you closer intimately through technology by providing statistical and visual analysis of performance in bed.

Digital Detox

“As a scientist, I can say that very little is measurable, and even those things that are measurable, you cannot trust the measurement beyond a certain point.”

— Nassim Nicholas Taleb “The Black Swan”

Chronos app tracks your life in a hands-off fashion.

Here to Stay or a Fading Fad?

We discussed QS systems that were great successes, great failures and the future of the movement. Some key takeaways:

One person’s trash is anothers’ treasure. A great moment occurred when two people had the complete opposite experience using Jawbone Up. For Ana, it was a trendy toy, while Soho used it to cure her medical ailment. The difference: Soho knew what she was looking for and why, while Ana was just testing it out. Jawbone Up allowed Soho to work with her doctor in another country and share her data around sleep, exercise, nutrition, and mood to discover the right medical dosage. Meanwhile, Ana couldn’t help thinking “So what..?”  after seeing she had 4 hours of light sleep.

Action gaps and personal coaches. There is still a gap between the ability to track data and the ability to act on it. To change a behavior or habit we typically rely on an array of resources (visual motivators, support from friends and family, feedback on progress, suggestions for new courses of actions, reminders, and accountability). AsRettner explains, today for example a fitness app may tell you how many steps you took, calories consumed and your heart rate, but it does not suggest how you can change your behavior to improve your health. What role will QS play in behavior change? Might the future of the QS involve creating virtual personal coaches?

“Where there are trends, there are opportunities. About 69% of US adults track at least one health metric; however, almost half are still tracking in their heads. This is a problem entrepreneurs are looking to fix and venture capitalists are funding. In fact, VC funding in this space doubled last year.”

— Mark Moschel – “The Beginner’s Guide to Quantified Self”

Build me an ecosystem. While we may all imagine a world full of connected, smart, helpful technology there are still manytechnical and ethical limitations. A world full of error messages, the poor being left behind, our personal data captured by others, are some of the concerns. At the same time, there are many people working to help us make use of data’s potential, like the use of fog computing for example, to get IoT going. So while reality catches up to our vision, I can see many more opportunities to design services around technology and data for self-empowerment.

And as for my panacea energy app, I haven’t found it yet. So until then, I’ll be using some old fashioned excel to track my time and staying mindful of how I’m feeling, what boosts my energy and why. And just for good measure, some stats on writing this post ?

  • 25 articles read
  • 11 conversations
  • 50 tracker apps looked up
  • 12 apps I signed up for
  • 0 apps used for more than a week
  • 30 hours researching
  • 7 hours writing
  • 1 hour sketching
  • 8 coffees, 5 apples, 2 gallons of water
Listen to your mother (or your app) and sit up straight. 

Listen to your mother (or your app) and sit up straight.

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