The quantified self

30 March 2016 / 11:13 am

Measure what is measurable and make measurable what is not so Galileo Galilei

The quantified self is a measured self. Thanks to new data acquisition technologies we are able to measure multiple modalities of our daily life, using devices such as wearable sensors, cameras, data-loggers and GPS. This information obtained can be from different types of input (e.g. food consumed, sleep, weight), different states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and changes in performance (e.g. mental and physical).

People and patients have been collecting data on themselves for a very long time. Benjamin Franklin famously tracked 13 personal virtues from temperance to humility in a daily journal to push himself toward moral perfection. Each day he dotted the virtues he failed to fulfil with a black lead pencil. He shared this insight in his autobiography; “I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined, but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish.”

Most people will also have some experience of quantifying themselves. Simple examples are height charts and weighing scales to show weight changes to slimming clubs. In the UK we are all asked to compete child health records in the red book and record key development and health events. Home blood pressure machines have allowed people to chart their recordings and bring them to their doctor visits. People with diabetes monitor their own blood sugar and adjust their doses of insulin according to results. Finger prick blood testing allows patients taking blood thinners such as warfarin to control their own dosing without having to visit hospital clinics. These are all examples of the quantified or measurable self.

What is changing is that new high-powered smartphone technologies, miniature hardware sensors and network connectivity allow us to record, store and share an enormous amount of health-related data. Large players such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung have all recently put digital health at the core of their business development and have launched platforms to try and entice new users as well as app and hardware developers.

The economic impact of this is staggering. It is estimated that there are 1.75 billion smartphone users and a survey of users across all age groups revealed that over 75 percent want to use digital health technologies. There are around 100,000 mobile health apps currently available and four million mobile health apps are downloaded every day. Worldwide revenues from sports, fitness, and activity tracking devices are worth $1 billion in 2014 and sales are predicted to grow by nearly 50 percent by 2019. As a consequence, venture capitalists are targeting quantified-health start-ups for investment.

In a health conscious world of wellness, an important goal of the quantified-self movement is to modify peoples’ behaviour to bring about health benefits. In order for that to happen, the user must be offered information into their data that is motivational and achievable. The hope then is to steer people to longer and healthier lifestyles whilst helping them manage their time better and track and preserve life memories. The holy grail of the quantified-self movement is to also use the data to identify specific medical interventions that will have an impact on health outcomes. Today we ask our doctor. Tomorrow we may ask our data.


Quantified self websites

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