What I like about QuantifiedSelf
I started getting involved with a group called QuantifiedSelf in 2008, organized by Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf who had started a blog earlier on the same subject. The focus of the group and the blog are the devices and techniques that people are using to make measurements about themselves, the experiments they conduct with this capability, and what they are learning in the process.
There are groups that meet in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Boston and elsewhere around the world with more coming. The SF meetings start with drinks and munchies, conversation, and show and tell where people show off new things they are working on. This is followed by a series of presentations where people show their work and do Q&A.
There are three kinds of presentations that I’ve found particularly compelling: (1) Getting to the bottom of a problem (2) What I’ve learned from experiments (3) A new device/technology I created or tried.
First, there are the talks by people who have a health concern but have not been well served by the traditional medical establishment or other means. For example, people who may have chronic pain, mystery allergies, GI disorders or other issues. These folks have been inspired to start measuring different things about themselves to try to see if something correlates with good and bad outcomes for themselves.
What’s interesting here is (1) these people are often doing this with no special devices or exotic technology but are just doing whatever it takes to measure and make sense of the data (2) they are often measuring multiple data points simultaneously in an attempt to see patterns. For example, they might measure pain or other discomfort levels, events (like an asthmatic attack), mood, exercise they took, what they ate, drugs they took, etc. Bottom line: these people are in pain and want that pain to go away or at least be understood – and they are motivated to do something about it. It is worth paying attention to what they are doing and what they are learning in the process. I should note that sites like CureTogether and patientslikeme were created to help with these problems – and leverage the community to seek solutions.
Second, there are the talks by people who are conducting experiments on themselves. Perhaps they have problems sleeping or want to understand what might lower their blood pressure. In any case, they are trying changes and seeing what happens. A recent talk discussed how the presenter had noticed improvements in mental processing, as measured by a test he had created. Sounds interesting but even better, the improvements came when he increased the butter in his diet. A lively discussion ensued on why this might be, how we could study this in more people, and whether there might perchance be bad effects of consuming a lot of butter. 🙂
Third, there are the talks about new technology. It is especially interesting to see prototypes that people have created and tried. Some of these are new devices for making measurements and some are software or techniques for capturing measurements. Some of the intriguing ones I have seen include a microphone connected to a camping air mattress, wedged between a regular mattress and box springs, to measure sleep activity (and it was sensitive enough to also detect heartbeat). Another was a system for logging all thoughts someone has had for many, many years. His ability to search and pull out thoughts from long ago made me think of the pensieve from the Harry Potter books.
For every talk, key questions people are asked is What have you learned? and What did you find surprising? In my case, I gave a talk on my use of a device from Philips called DirectLife, and what I found surprising was how motivating it was for me to use this device and its little lights to tell me how I was doing on my exercise goal for the day.
Bottom line: the QuantifiedSelf group is full of inventive, creative people interested in health and wellness and how to make it better for themselves and for others. It’s very inspiring and I learn something new each time I attend. I would encourage you to join a meetup, measure something, try an experiment, and learn more about what you can do for yourself and others to improve wellness.
©2010 Alex L. Bangs, All Rights Reserved.