A persistent theme at the 2017 Quantified Self Conference was how self-tracking can help those with chronic conditions spot associations between symptoms and lifestyle that a clinician might not have time to uncover. These personal discoveries can help improve one’s health.
In this show&tell, Justin Lawler talks about learning that he has early onset osteoporosis and the several metrics, including diet, microbiome, exercise, sleep and bone density, he tracks to help manage and understand the disease.
I love that the talk emphasizes that many QS projects are long term – even lifelong. Most conventional research projects have a start and end date, garnering a lot of information but only addressing a limited window in time. The self awareness that comes with self tracking can be useful across months and years, elucidating subtle patterns that might otherwise be undetectable.
I was thrilled to have the chance to do a Show&Tell talk about tracking my ovulatory cycle via minute-by-minute body temperature during the final plenary session at QS17 Conference. It’s an ongoing project that explores what high-temporal-resolution body temperature can help us learn about our reproductive state. Daily body temperature readings are already used to aid fertility tracking, but several of you expressed interest in collecting more frequent data with me. You inspired me to start uploading my cycle tracking code on Github. I’ll be adding to this repository over time, so check back and shoot me a message if you have an idea you’d like me to try!
We’re back from QS17 and eager to share the conference with you from beginning to end. This, our ninth conference, covered a lot of ground: we showcased self-tracking projects, investigated our relationship with technology, and discussed the past and future of QS. Over the coming weeks, we’ll share some conference highlights.
Today I want to share our opening Show & Tell from Robin Weis, which captures the personal discovery and data-driven spirit of QS. If you’re new to QS, you might not know that the community is about much more than tracking your steps or your hours of sleep: it’s about gaining personal insight by putting numbers to any important aspect of your life. Robin Weis tracked an unusual metric – crying – over a long period of time and did an inspiring job tying together her personal story with her data. Click the link above, check it out, and come back in a few days for another talk!
Kyrill Potapov: “I’ve been hacking Rescue Time, which tracks how I use my computer, to make it a tool for personal growth rather than work optimization.”
Feeling unpleasantly like he was “moving from one pressing issue to the next like a pinball”, Kyrill decided that he needed a way to track not just productivity, but satisfaction and growth. The standard approach would be to simply divide and assess how he spent his time: (some tasks are productive and satisfying; others are productive but menial). Instead, he decided to appeal to his altruism and devise a clever system to incentivize productive and satisfying behavior.
At QS17, Kyrill’s talk will explain how he uses the productivity output of Rescue Time to turn on a light bulb which is the primary energy source for “Pip”, his houseplant. This isn’t just cute – tying the health of another to one’s own behavior can be an extremely motivating force. My mom has told me that her pregnancy flipped a switch for her self-care, making her more aware of her own health behaviors and more able to adjust them. Obviously, having a baby isn’t a feasible strategy for inspiring behavioral change in general, but tying the life of a living *plant* to your behavior is a similar, (albeit low stakes) motivator. A healthy sense of pun-humor let’s Kyrill see his ‘personal growth’ and consistency over time.
Speaking of time for self care and growth, I’m about to take off backpacking for a few weeks. See you in Amsterdam!
Ellis has a dream job: she is a ‘game alchemist’ who studies the value of play. With Quantified Self, Ellis has drawn a face a day and shared photos to track her mood and food. At the 2017 Quantified Self Global Conference, she’ll share her quantification of one of the inevitable and unpredictable outcomes of play: scars. She has recorded her date of injury, scar size, healing time and other metrics. While most ‘quantified scar’ studies and articles on the web focus on how to get rid of scars as effectively as possible, this talk will focus more on the narrative scars tell us about our bodies and our activities- from fun childhood games to recovery from car accidents. We’re looking forward to hearing Ellis’ wisdom on how we can “In the context of our scars… learn to deal with life more playfully and appreciate it more.”
All of our conference speakers are members of the community. Check out our program to get a flavor for the wide variety of projects we’ll be showcasing this June 17-18 in Amsterdam. We hope to see you there!
Sara Riggare: “I will share how I work to keep up with my progressive neurological illness by tweaking and re-tweaking my medications, including what I’ve learned from the most recent changes to my Parkinson’s medication.”
I love this clear illustration of the value of health-tracking between visits to the doctor – especially for disease management. At QS17, Sara will share the insights health tracking has allowed her to glean from decades of experience with Parkinson’s.
Managing Parkinson’s disease requires constant tuning. The symptoms result from decreased dopaminergic signaling from a brain region that helps set the tone for our movements. Without enough dopamine, movement is slow or impossible. Too much and movement is fidgety or ballistic. To add to the complication, the natural levels of dopamine in the brain fluctuate throughout the day – meaning that the same medication affects a patient differently depending on when it is taken. This makes Parkinson’s management a careful balancing act – not something that can be calibrated in just one doctor appointment per year.
Sara makes great use of the 8,765 hours she’s not in the doctor’s office to keep a record of how exercise, sleep, and shifts in the complicated dosing of her medications influence her symptoms. She has put her self-tracking to scientific use by conducting graduate research at the Karolinska Institute, and has been called “a thought leader in Parkinson’s in the new age of social media.” We’re excited to hear at QS17 how she re-calibrated her doses after adding a new medication to her drug regiment.
Just a few more weeks until the 2017 Quantified Self Global Conference! We can’t wait.
Justin Lawler: “At the age of 38, I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. After exhausting the usual route of blood tests & scans from the doctors, I took things into my own hands and uncovered deeper health issues underlying the initial diagnosis.”
We normally think of osteoporosis as a condition of the elderly, but bone density loss can begin much earlier in life. It’s more prevalent in people who work desk jobs (moderate activity normally provides physical stress necessary to bone growth and maintenance), and in those who take corticosteroids, and can be influenced by diet. At QS17, Justin will share how he uses several biomarkers, including his microbiome and liver metabolites, to manage factors contributing to his osteoporosis. The data has helped him target specific changes in diet and exercise that have improved his symptoms- and he’ll have brand new data on bone density changes to share with us this summer.
Not enough data exist to explain the links between osteoporosis and metabolism on an individual basis, making data like Justin’s important to our awareness of the cross-system nature of the disease. He’s one of the many who has acknowledged that “If I saw in real time what my lifestyle was doing to my health ten years ago, I would have changed then”. Justin is a developer and organizer of the active and excellent QS group in Dublin. To see the amazing talks we haven’t had a chance to preview yet, check out our Conference Program. See you in Amsterdam!
Matt Manhattan: I’ll show how my obsession with keeping a visual and textual diary of everything I own changed the way I think.
Matt Manhattan takes inventory of every item he owns: shirts, ice cream tubs, paper towels, you name it.
Why in the world would someone do this? Is this like Marie Kondo trying to convince you to get rid of half your wardrobe? For Matt, what started as an effort to keep track of his electronics turned into a practice spanning all of his material life. This changed the way he thought about his possessions, and, as a side effect, ended up saving him a substantial amount of money. At QS17, Matt will share what he learned from putting the decision to make a new purchase in the context of his past purchases – purchases whose reasons and costs tend to disappear from our minds unless we have a way to track them and reflect on them.
QS17 – as we never tire of repeating – will be in Amsterdam on June 17/18, 2017. We hope to see you there!
Whitney Erin Boesel: “In my case, AMH may not be as important as fertility clinics and egg-banking startups want people to believe.”
Women are understudied in most disciplines. Reproductive health is the general exception, but even then research on male reproductive problems often outnumbers that concerning women. One result among many is that our understanding female fertility isn’t as complete as it could be. For example, anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) levels have been used to estimate a woman’s ‘reserve pool’ of eggs. Though AMH may become the “Gold Standard” of fertility, it still isn’t clear what levels are ideal for each woman. If you’re looking to get pregnant, there is a certain range (high but not too high) that is considered favorable for conception. At QS17 Amsterdam, Whitney is going to share her experience tracking her AMH, attempting to increase it, and finally having a successful pregnancy despite low-ish levels of the hormone. She’ll also hold a breakout session on tracking hormones, menstruation and fertility.
Aside being a new mum, Whitney is a writer, scholar, and active member of the QS community who, among her other work, has written about the incorporation of technology into medicine, Biomedicalization 2.0, and the nature of QS movement, “What Is The Quantified Self Now?”