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The Quantified Self
April 30, 2010 8:15 PM   Subscribe

The Data-Driven Life. "Ubiquitous self-tracking is a dream of engineers. For all their expertise at figuring out how things work, technical people are often painfully aware how much of human behavior is a mystery. People do things for unfathomable reasons. They are opaque even to themselves. A hundred years ago, a bold researcher fascinated by the riddle of human personality might have grabbed onto new psychoanalytic concepts like repression and the unconscious. These ideas were invented by people who loved language. Even as therapeutic concepts of the self spread widely in simplified, easily accessible form, they retained something of the prolix, literary humanism of their inventors. From the languor of the analyst’s couch to the chatty inquisitiveness of a self-help questionnaire, the dominant forms of self-exploration assume that the road to knowledge lies through words. Trackers are exploring an alternate route. Instead of interrogating their inner worlds through talking and writing, they are using numbers. They are constructing a quantified self."
posted by homunculus (57 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ubiquitous self-tracking is a dream of engineers marketers.
posted by delmoi at 8:24 PM on April 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


In a related post via today's Arts and Letter Daily about the wonderful world of novel-reading, placed in opposition to Net info-scanning: it's a great read, if you have the time and patience to digest it.
posted by kozad at 8:29 PM on April 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


marketers consumption engineers
posted by decagon at 8:33 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


homunculus I love you man but these people are way overboard. Way overboard. The number of people on the planet who are capable of titrating themselves off caffeine or similar works is very very very close to 0.0. I would bet anything the guy who claimed he did is a liar.

Do you know a lot of drug addicts?
posted by bukvich at 8:35 PM on April 30, 2010


We live in a world where the thorniest policy issues increasingly boil down to arguments over what the data mean. If you don’t understand statistics, you don’t know what’s going on — and you can’t tell when you’re being lied to. Statistics should now be a core part of general education. You shouldn’t finish high school without understanding it reasonably well — as well, say, as you can compose an essay. We often say, rightly, that literacy is crucial to public life: If you can’t write, you can’t think. The same is now true in math. Statistics is the new grammar.
posted by netbros at 8:43 PM on April 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


This is fascinating. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I had terrible problems with sleep and moods and other parts of my life which felt like they were ruling me rather than letting me live. And so I got a calendar diary thing and started doing some tracking of my own with pen and paper. I made up a bunch of little symbols to help me track everything I was curious about (and made up more as I went along), and ended up with more than a few years' worth of strange little glyphs which encoded my life. Over time, I was able to draw out some trends and made some adjustments in my diet and sleep habits and other things and a lot of the problems seemed to fade away.

Knowing that there are people keeping such detailed records of their lives, and seeking to use the data in various ways... that helps me feel a bit less like a misfit nerd child during those years.
posted by hippybear at 8:49 PM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


consumption engineers lifestyle enhancers
posted by carsonb at 8:51 PM on April 30, 2010


bukvich, how exactly do people break out of caffeine addictions, then? Are you suggesting that no one ever does? The practice of gradually reducing your dosage is not uncommon, doing it by milliliters is odd but not unprecedented.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:56 PM on April 30, 2010


Based on my Yelp profile, I am addicted to happy hours with cheap apps and a decent tap selection, but I of course knew this.

Now give me a connected device that can sample my bloodstream and figure out the optimal beer/food schedule to get a good night's sleep instead of hypoglycemia-induced terrors, and I'll be a customer.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:03 PM on April 30, 2010


I think the observation, "People do things for unfathomable reasons." is easily blanketed by the notion of emergent behavior. But I'm a bit loaded.
posted by vapidave at 9:14 PM on April 30, 2010


In the beginning was the Word ...

and so on.
posted by philip-random at 9:20 PM on April 30, 2010


I spent so much of my day tracking myself that I had to start tracking how much of my day I spent tracking myself.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:23 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems to me like these practices and hippybear's anecdote especially relate back to Ben Franklin's 13 Virtues (summary, original text).

I think the last line of the article, saying that everyone is going to be doing it soon, is correct. Having a computer collect the data and hence removing the need for the self discipline to do it manually would certainly incline me more to try it out.
posted by XMLicious at 9:23 PM on April 30, 2010


From the languor of the analyst’s couch to the chatty inquisitiveness of a self-help questionnaire, the dominant forms of self-exploration assume that the road to knowledge lies through words. Trackers are exploring an alternate route. Instead of interrogating their inner worlds through talking and writing, they are using numbers.

Hurm. Yes, few people understand the human condition like engineers, hamburger.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:24 PM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


The poor old "chatty questionairre" is in for a beating. What people say and admit too are often far different than what they do. However I don't think this will make much of a dent in the unfathomable behavior.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 9:28 PM on April 30, 2010


Yes, few people understand the human condition like engineers

Hamburger aside - no, they're not any good at understanding it, they're just good at building mirrors so that you don't fuck up your neck when you're contemplating your navel.
posted by XMLicious at 9:29 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


as much as people really really want it to be, the brain is not a computer, we are not digital beings.
posted by edgeways at 9:40 PM on April 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


XMLicious, I've only scanned this site, so maybe there are great insights here I'm missing, but I do love this one bit that sounds like something out of The Big Bang Theory:

One example is a participant who had been coping with longstanding marital conflict. After reflecting on his mood data, particularly a drop in energy each evening, the participant began practicing relaxation therapies on the phone before entering his house, applying cognitive reappraisal techniques to cope with stressful family interactions, and talking more openly with his wife. His mean anger, anxiety and sadness ratings all were lower in the second half of the field study than in the first.

"Reflecting on his mood data" led one engineer to the startling conclusion that he needed to talk to his wife "openly." After that, his "anger, anxiety and sadness ratings" all went down! Eagerly, I await the findings that more frequent sex improves his generalized personal fulfillment rating, and that although consumption of milk chocolate bolsters his pep and vigor ratings in the short term, overconsumption greatly increases his oily skin ratio and the mathematical odds of his getting kinda gassy. I'm glad that models like this exist for people who are otherwise too dense to pick up on things everyone else already knows, but...
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:42 PM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


"as much as people really really want it to be, the brain is not a computer, we are not digital beings."

Your statement is a bit binary.
posted by vapidave at 9:57 PM on April 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


bukvich: "The number of people on the planet who are capable of titrating themselves off caffeine or similar works is very very very close to 0.0."

Health can be a great motivator - when the food you love causes pain quitting can be done and is done.

After realizing that caffeine was one of the larger triggers for acid reflux, I was able to wean myself off of both coffee and chocolate. CHOCOLATE, man. Me -- who, as a kid at Easter would finish off other kids' 1-pound chocolate bunnies if they left them at Grandma's -- kicked chocolate.

Er, well, I kicked it until better reflux drugs allowed it back on the menu. But STILL. CHOCOLATE, dude.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:05 PM on April 30, 2010


I, who DID pay attention in English classes, cringe at the grammar above (and blame it on thinking about chocolate).
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:08 PM on April 30, 2010


[RalphWiggum] "Me kicked chocolate? Unpossible!" [/RalphWiggum]
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:10 PM on April 30, 2010


I'm glad that models like this exist for people who are otherwise too dense to pick up on things everyone else already knows, but...

It's pretty arrogant to assume that you're so self-aware that you couldn't learn anything from this kind of data. (or that you're so perfect that you couldn't improve by holding a mirror up to some of the behaviors that you try not to think about)
posted by chrisamiller at 10:10 PM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


kfb - I agree, as I said I don't think that engineers are any good at understanding the human condition. I literally mean that they're creating devices that are equivalent to mirrors for examining some aspects of your life.

Instead of developing the meditative focus or self-awareness to know when your concentration is wandering, for example, there's a sensor and data processing system that creates a record of the outward signs of your concentration wandering - a record you can reflect upon. The mirror itself isn't a replacement for self-awareness or understanding the human condition, it's just a tool people will have available. And like many things that are created by engineers it probably will be most deftly used by people who aren't engineers, once the engineers get all the bugs out of course...
posted by XMLicious at 10:18 PM on April 30, 2010


It's pretty arrogant to assume that you're so self-aware that you couldn't learn anything from this kind of data. (or that you're so perfect that you couldn't improve by holding a mirror up to some of the behaviors that you try not to think about)

Well, that's just it -- I don't try not to think about them. I think about them all the time, the way people are generally expected to do. But the example I cited, at least, isn't holding a mirror up to anything -- it's abstracting Human Behavior 101 so that someone who can't wrap his head around it has a way of approaching stuff that apparently does not come naturally to him. Which is all well and good for people who have that same problem, but it's not revolutionary thinking. If there's something really useful on this site, information that isn't already either obvious or explicated better somewhere else, then please, point it out; I'm not being sarcastic, I would really like to see it, because who doesn't want to better themselves?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:20 PM on April 30, 2010


I tried this quantum self thing. I got tired of having to stop to record my location and getting lost every time I recorded my speed.

The nice thing about automated observation is, it reduces the interference those observations make on that which is observed. One interference that would be nice to reduce, is the obsession over collecting the data.

Oh, dear Metafilter, I have been there. But long ago, when I was young and there were no pocket-sized computers to make it all convenient. Papers and pens. Even programs on pre-PC computers. It was not pretty. I knew there was something useful to be gained, yet I couldn't get a handle on it.

I still see value in this accumulation of 'tracking' data (the quotes because tracking, to me, is about location, not behavior). But the nightmare of obsession is to be feared. The obsession starts out as simply tracking some little things. But then you want more things, and finer detail. Always and forever, more and finer. Madness, it is.
posted by Goofyy at 10:24 PM on April 30, 2010


as much as people really really want it to be, the brain is not a computer, we are not digital beings.

vapidave said it better, but

fluid dynamics and genetics aren't computers either. If only there were some insight to be gained on the former by application of the latter...
posted by 7segment at 10:26 PM on April 30, 2010


kfb - Oh, we might be looking at different things. I've just read the NYT article, I'll take a look at that site now.

But note that the passage you quote above about the therapist's couch and the self-help questionnaire (which I thought was from the article) - aren't those sort of mirrors too?
posted by XMLicious at 10:31 PM on April 30, 2010


True, people inclined to go overboard on data collection will be true to their colours and do so. But I think people are such poor self-evaluators in so many areas, and thus could derive some benefit to (appropriately targeted) self-tracking.

Small example: I just started a gym membership a few months ago and wanted a printout of the days I'd signed in. The printout showed both date and time, which also showed me the reason for some recent low-energy days. I'd been going as late as 9:30 pm several nights before. Wouldn't have picked up on that so soon if it weren't being tracked for me.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:36 PM on April 30, 2010


My $0.02: everyone just shut the fuck up and learn about Buddhism.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:06 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Excessive personal data collection has it's downside too.

http://www.kk.org/quantifiedself/2010/04/why-i-stopped-tracking.php

There's something to be said for just paying attention to yourself. You know, manually.
posted by waxboy at 11:10 PM on April 30, 2010


I'm busy tracking some stuff-- a couple of mood issues, sleep, exercise, food, and migraine activity-- for my neurologist, who requested it.

The idea isn't to tell me things I already know ("some of my migraine triggers are estrogen-related"), but to get a clearer picture of trends in my headaches ("during these specific cycle days, there's more migraine activity") to help him do the underlying science ("oh, well, hormone X surges on day Y, perhaps it's that").

It's also handy if you have a tendency to anxiety over medical conditions-- instead of asking other people for reassurance, you can look at your data and go "Oh, yeah, that. That happened last month too. Guess it's a thing, good to mention at my next appointment."
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:41 PM on April 30, 2010


Women who use "natural" birth control methods have been doing intensive self-quantification for decades (usually without being quite so verbose about it). This involves tracking your morning temperature, mood, weight, cervical position, cervical mucus, blood sugar, fluid retention, etc. There's a lot of geekery involved as the hormone system is complex and interconnected with other body systems. You also get to use a variety of hormone-testing gadgets. Actually, apart from being quite insightful, it's really fun and many women keep charting their hormonal signs even when they are not trying to conceive or avoid pregnancies.

To all geeks/engineers who happen to be female, I heartily recommend Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It totally changed the way I see my reproductive system, and a lot of things about my body make much more sense now.
posted by The Toad at 1:10 AM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, few people understand the human condition like engineers, hamburger.

Maybe, but perhaps a big-picture understanding of the human condition just isn't very important or useful when it comes to solving specific personal problems compared to having an objective quantification of various bits of personal data, as geeky as it may be to record them? Why do you need to understand the human condition to lose weight, for example? Isn't it more useful to have an XML spreadsheet showing how many calories you are eating, how many you are burning through exercise, and when?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 4:14 AM on May 1, 2010


The Toad, I think I've been doing the same but without the data gathering pain in the butt aspect of it but simply being aware and cognizant of minute changes and patterns over time, helped by the occasional calender entry.
posted by infini at 5:01 AM on May 1, 2010


Yes, few people understand the human condition like hamburger, engineers.

ftfy
posted by infini at 5:02 AM on May 1, 2010


The great sociologist Howard Becker once explained the problem with much sociological theory of the mid-20th century (when the concept of "deviance" was all the rage in sociology) as a failure to grasp a basic principle of human behavior: whatever we do *seems like a good idea at the time.*

What these folks are doing, I'm sure, seemed like a good idea at the time.

However the reduction of previous modes of exploration and intervention in human consciousness to "language" (as in the FPP) does a real disservice to the different philosophies of language invoked in these traditions. Don't confuse "language" with rationality, don't presuppose language communicates only in a referential mode, and then get back to me about psychoanalysis or phenomenology. I've never seen humans communicating naturally by means of efficient mathematical statements (although I have seen statistics used to tell lies, frequently).
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:32 AM on May 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, this statement:

technical people are often painfully aware how much of human behavior is a mystery

strikes me as exaggerated.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:33 AM on May 1, 2010


I track several aspects of my life with a pretty low level of obsession. To me it has nothing to do with "nerd needs to understand human condition" than the fact that humans are just remarkably bad at objective thinking. Our memory is ridiculously selective, our sense of time is terrible, and we just plain change reality to suit what we want to believe. Very few people are good at recognizing cause and effect in their lives. If you track something, quantify it, you just might be able to make some objective conclusion and see how things really are. Heck, it's why science works. You don't just look at fruit flies and say hmm, they look unhappy when it rains, you take some frickin measurements.

The guy in the article was able to see that is original thoughts about caffeine were misled (it didn't help him concentrate) and it had nothing to do with the fact that he was an engineer oblivious to the human condition.

Many women think that their cycle is irregular-- until they start tracking it. Then some sort of pattern is usually easy to see. I also find it really reassuring to know that my face doesn't break out with acne because of french fries or stress or some nebulous curse from the gods but because of hormones and it'll die down in a few days. It's just great to know what's going on.
posted by bobobox at 6:00 AM on May 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


The conclusions reached by data mining are in fact the same sorts of conclusions that people reach by Good Old Common Sense. This does not mean that data mining is useless. It gets you the specific commonsense knowledge you need to fix your life, saving you the trouble of sifting through all the common knowledge that doesn't apply to you.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:40 AM on May 1, 2010


I stopped reading after this point:

Can your cell phone replace your therapist

posted by jason's_planet at 6:42 AM on May 1, 2010


> In a related post via today's Arts and Letter Daily about the wonderful world of novel-reading, placed in opposition to Net info-scanning: it's a great read, if you have the time and patience to digest it.

Thanks for that—it is indeed a great read, far more worthwhile than this bullshit about the "data-driven life."
posted by languagehat at 6:44 AM on May 1, 2010


OK I got far enough in there to find they consider Seth Roberts an expert on this stuff. His claim that three tablespoons daily of flaxseed oil improves his mental function is fascinating anecdotal data but it is not a scientific finding.

There are two widely different issues here. What really matters is where you begin. If your life is completely screwed up there are probably hundreds of valid recipes to improve it. In Cognitive Therapy one regimen is mood tracking where you try and infer cause and effect from life activities and you may find that your daily automobile commute makes you feel like crap and if you leave thirty minutes early and meditate in the parking lot before you go to your job it helps your anxiety and depression. I am pretty sure this can work for a lot of people.

If your life is mostly fine--say you go to the psychiatrist and he does the diagnostic workup on you and your "general level of function" (that is what my psychiatrist called it years ago and may have been his quirk or obsolete by now but I think the meaning is clear) is ,7 or .8--in my opinion there is very little chance that you are going to talk to an expert or read a book and figure out a clever trick to bump that up. I do not believe there is any smart drug that can turn a 130 IQ person into a 135 IQ person. Actually I don't really believe in IQ.

So anyway the issues and ideas are fascinating but that article is not. Did you get to the part in the article where the author says his business is that website? This guy is marketing slime.
posted by bukvich at 7:30 AM on May 1, 2010


These efforts are interesting, but I don't think that the level of hardcore data tracking these engineers or engineer-types are doing will result in lasting behavioral change. I have done these things myself (like the coffee example) and they are amazingly successful *in the short term*. Why? Because it's a super interesting "project" to engage in. It's awesome! We love projects. You start with a goal, you architect your plan of attack, you figure out your data collection framework, and then you set out to prove that you were right and that you can achieve your goal. And guess what? You do!! Yay! It's a wonderful feeling just to know that you can change your environment and even your own behavior by dedicating your engineering talents to your own personal goals. But then, the project loses it's excitement after that. Are you REALLY cured from your addiction/desire to drink coffee? Or eat sugary foods? Or "waste time watching tv?" (all things that people wish they could reduce and may even track). Of course you're not. Because you haven't really changed the underlying root cause(s) of WHY you do those things.

I have lost weight over 10 times by doing extreme bets with my friends and charting the data. I've lost 25 lbs each time. But it came back right away. There is a wonderful book called "Intuitive Eating" (by Elyse Resch) that talks about this in detail. Although the book is focused on eating and our "relationship with food", I think it is more generally applicable to other behaviors. How we use food is very telling about where we might want to do some deeper level work/journaling/etc to uncover other truths we can work on. Once that level of insight is visible, it's amazing how we can then move forward to craft long-term sustainable changes (not "short-term hardcore projects").

Anyway, this was the first thing I thought of when reading this article, so thought I'd share. Thanks!
posted by sharingideas at 8:52 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh sweet Jesus. Life is far, far too short.
posted by jokeefe at 11:02 AM on May 1, 2010


I really liked the article that Kozad posted, although it treads a lot of familiar "is-google-making-us-stupid" territory.

Regarding the OP: Even if it worked I would never keep a self-database to solve my problems.
posted by codacorolla at 11:51 AM on May 1, 2010


Adorno got here first.
Increasingly, rationality itself is equated more mathematico with the faculty of quantification. While perfectly corresponding to the primacy of a triumphant natural science, this faculty is by no means inherent in the concept of the ratio itself [...] There is no quantified insight whose point, whose terminus ad quem, can be reached without qualitative retranslation. Even in statistics the cognitive goal is qualitative; quantification is nothing but the means.
posted by RogerB at 1:43 PM on May 1, 2010


I have seen statistics used to tell lies, frequently

Good thing that can't happen with words.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 4:42 PM on May 1, 2010


I'm bemused by the hostility displayed here toward what seems to me to be a very natural idea: you can learn things from accurate information. It reminds me of the mockery directed at fruit fly research by Sarah Palin.

People are very good at fooling themselves, and accurate data collection is a way to get around that ability. Of course, if you're perfectly happy with fooling yourself, there's no reason for you to stop, and mocking people who don't want to indulge that habit is a fine way to make your own ignorance feel superior.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:26 PM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


What you call learning from accurate data collection, I'd call making even our leisure time into a Taylorized time-motion study, obsessively instrumentalizing and commodifying the last glimmers of free subjective experience, the final few pieces of our lives that haven't yet been bought or sold. Perhaps that just sounds like more of those fuzzy, untrustworthy words, but I don't see how you could call it a defense of ignorance.
posted by RogerB at 9:42 PM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think there's a lot of scepticism here, and rightly so. There's all sorts of wild assumptions going on based on the data collected. The largest of which, to me, is that we can consciously direct our own lives. If anything our conciousness servers to rationalize and justify causes after the fact, not before. Living is a highly complex thing, something we do on autopilot most of the time. What we are capable of perceiving and focusing on in any given moment pales in comparison to what actually occurs around us in that given moment. Most of our actions, most of our thoughts are not, and probably can not, be accessible to us. Not if we are to actually function and survive.

Our brains and conciousness are really, simply a metafilter.

In that video, Ben Rubin links altitude to sleep. Really, maybe it was the carbonara he ate for dinner? Or the linens in the bed he slept in. Or one of an infinite number of other possibilities. It could simply be that is his sleep cycle every 5110 days.

Data is a dangerous thing. Being trained as a scientist and working as a systems engineer, I think data almost compels me to come up with answers sometimes. Whether those answers are truth or simply a convenient narrative is sometimes a very difficult question to answer.
posted by herda05 at 12:39 AM on May 2, 2010


making even our leisure time into a Taylorized time-motion study

Why do you say "our?" You're not involved in any of these projects.

I think data almost compels me to come up with answers sometimes.

So does lack of data. We're explanation-generating animals.

Whether those answers are truth or simply a convenient narrative is sometimes a very difficult question to answer.

But false data, such as that produced by biased memory, is more likely to get you to a place where your answers are simply convenient, rather than effective.

If you're trained as a scientist, you ought to know that the methods of science are tools meant to evade our ability to fool ourselves. This article is about some people who are using some of those tools for their own lives. Maybe their explanations are bogus...but are they any more bogus than explanations that were reached through mere guesswork?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:12 AM on May 2, 2010


MetaFilter: for unfathomable reasons
posted by aldus_manutius at 10:27 AM on May 2, 2010


I'm kind of surprised at the vitriol here, too*. And this:

Oh sweet Jesus. Life is far, far too short.

Life is too short for... what? Doing something that you enjoy? No one is being forced to keep a public record of their intimate and/or banal habits; if anyone does this, it's because they want to. And finally, isn't the New York Times Magazine known for making a big deal about made up "movements", the subjects of which always coming across as smug jerks? This story is no different. You don't have to partake in this sort of thing if you don't want to, promise.

*This is the internet, so I guess I'm not really surprised.
posted by bobobox at 11:07 AM on May 2, 2010


I'm kind of surprised at the vitriol here, too*.

Me too. Maybe I set the wrong tone with the quote from the article I picked. This kind of self-tracking isn't for me, personally, but it's an interesting trend and these trackers clearly find it worthwhile, so more power to them.
posted by homunculus at 11:49 AM on May 2, 2010


This reminds me of what life would be like if we all had little mood/bladder/hunger meters like The Sims.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:37 AM on May 3, 2010


I find this sort of thing really interesting and it appeals to me, although I still think the amount of time/effort you'd need to spend collecting the data is too high right now. As sensor systems get better and more transparent, they become a lot more attractive.

A few years ago I had great success losing weight using the Hacker's Diet, which relies quite heavily on metrics and statistical analysis / visualization in order to pick out trends from noise (your weight on any given day can fluctuate by far more than you can lose, in fat, in one day; this makes some sort of smoothing really helpful). But for it to work you have to collect the data.

More recently I've been thinking about getting some sort of recorder — either a GPS-based or accelerometer-based one — for measuring my workouts as I've gotten back into running. I've never had a great sense of distance: a two-mile run on a day when I'm feeling tired can feel, subjectively, "longer" than a three- or four- or even five-mile run on a day when I'm in the zone. (The simple solution is to just run the same course every day, but that's boring, which leads to me not wanting to run.) But the appeal of those systems is their transparency: you just wear it, and then download the data later, and it does the rest. You don't have to mess around with plotting your course on a map or remembering where you turned around.

I'm sure there are a lot of people using workout-tracking systems (the Nike Fit or the Garmin GPS watches) who don't consider themselves hardcore metrics addicts; as other types of data-gathering systems become equally simple and user-friendly, and solve problems that people are interested in, I can see them becoming equally popular.

Just as a hypothetical example, if there were a reliable way to determine blood sugar levels non-invasively (which to my knowledge there is not), I could imagine lots of people — people who do not track their blood sugar right now — keeping track of it. It wouldn't be quite the "hunger meter" from the Sims, but it would be close. And after a while I doubt anyone would think more of it than about stepping on a bathroom scale.

The idea of collecting and analyzing a lot of personal metrics might seem threatening, because right now the only people willing to take the time to do it are really dedicated. One might say obsessive. But if the time and energy commitment required comes down and "regular people" start doing it, it will lose that threatening / weird / obsessive quality.

The only problem I can see from all this is one that you run into with any sort of data mining or retrospective study: it is easy to take a big pile of data and sort through it and justify whatever your preferred theory is. As more people start collecting data about themselves, we're going to see a lot of bad pattern-finding. If you want to demonstrate causality, you need to change things in a controlled manner and see whether they match your predictions, not just pick out patterns retrospectively.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:31 AM on May 3, 2010


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