Statistical Data Analysis

How Far Can The Quantified Self Go?

They used to say that a cocaine habit was the sign of a person with too much time and money on their hands. The last equivalent appears to be the very modern trend of the quantified self, that sees people observe and analyse themselves, their activities, health and so on, in all sorts of curious ways.

Today on Techmeme alone there are several stories that evidence this modish, technocratic fashion. Google Fit, as exclusively revealed by Forbes, will be an umbrella health service that collates data from fitness trackers. 9to5Mac has a story about how iOS will host features to support the forthcoming iWatch with likely health and fitness monitoring. Mark One’s Vessyl is a mug/flask that will analyse the contents of your drink, including calories, sugar and caffeine, says CNet.

Almost every day there’s more: sensors and gadgets to check cardiac activity, BMI, sleep patterns and so on. Cameras, eyewear, gloves and other wearable digital items to capture our lives, communicate them and index them: a never-ending, real-time examination of what goes on inside us and what lies beneath.

It’s been coming a while of course, all the way back to the 1970s by the Wikipedia entry for the Quantified Self. But the pace is stepping up visibly. Stephen Wolfram’s March 2012 blog The Personal Analytics of My Life was a ‘Rubicon moment’ perhaps. Here, the founder of Mathematica, took a  molecular view of his habits such as emails sent and received, number of keystrokes typed (seven per cent of them backstrokes, he marvels), phone calls made and so on, tallied against time of the day, external events and so on, in seemingly endless detail and then some.

Since then we have seen the inexorable rise of fitness trackers and smartwatches but also online journals that map activities and share them with the world, GPS location discovery, the sites that tell us how we see ourselves and more. All of this points to a spike in people’s interests turning inward towards a (probably benevolent) fascination with the self.

There may also be a correlation with surplus wealth, the rise of talent-free celebrities, greater understanding of health issues and vanity — note the concomitant popularity of therapy, wellbeing (ugh) activities, cosmetic surgery, Botox and similar treatments.

To sceptics, much of this must smack of navel gazing and the sin of Onan. To others it might be the sign of human beings finally paying attention to science and behaving in ways that are more logical and positive, although for now the questionable results generated by tracking technologies mean we can’t call the answers truly scientific.

What is clear is that this voyage to the centre of I —the corporal, the mind, the id, ego and super-ego — appears to be unstoppable.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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