Recently, Technology Review invited me to do a guest post on one of their blogs as part of their feature, “The Measured Life.” I chose to engage a claim I saw on Ethan Zuckerman’s blog — that at the QS Conference, it seemed that “quantified self” = “quantified health.” He asked about mood, attention, emotions — other parts of our self beyond the physical body.
This point resonated with me quite a lot — that what’s interesting about the quantified self isn’t just the democratization of established physical measures, but also the creation of new ones to help us understand parts of ourselves that we don’t know how to measure yet. After the jump is the blog post I wrote for Technology Review — looking at current examples of tracking that cover parts of the self — our attention, communication, and environment — that go beyond the physical body.
The Boston Quantified Self group got together last Tues., June 1st, at the offices of Zeo, inc. About 25 people came, with four presenters… it was a fun night!
David Rose first spoke about his product, Vitality. Vitality’s main product is GlowCaps — light-up, wirelessly communicating pill bottles that help patients with medication adherence. It uses the feedback methods of financial incentives, reporting to your doctor, letting a social network know, and coordinating pharmaceutical refills (all of these are options for the user to opt into.)
He shared a clip about Vitality from the Colbert Report (that David didn’t know was going to air when he first saw it…) and then talked about his current research: figuring out how to identify what motivations will work for which people. He presented a graphic of a four-quadrant model of motivations, breaking down rewards to internal vs. external motivations on one axis and contextualized vs. context-independent on the other.
He also has a survey he’s interested in the QS community taking as a further exploration of understanding one’s own personal motivational style: here’s a link if you’re interested.
Mike Sheeley talked about the widely-downloaded app, RunKeeper, which cleverly uses GPS to track users’ runs. They’re currently approaching 2.5 million users, and he discussed the problems of how to balance sharing information with users’ desire for privacy. (Interestingly, other users often want to know where nearby runners are, not to meet up and run together, but just to learn where the good local routes are.)
Adrian Gropper presented his company MedCommons‘ product, HealthURL. HealthURL is a universal health record for use by physician or patient, and its first use is as an online storehouse of radiology imaging. As someone who’s taken care to get make sure I get my X-rays from the hospital, on DVD, onto my computer, and to the next doctor, I appreciated the thinking behind this. Adrian’s motivating spirit is to make health utilities which put patients and physicians on the same playing field (he did expect the vast majority of his initial audience would be physicians.)
Eric Zwick rounded out our presentations. He currently studies behavioral economics at Harvard, and talked about a three-self model of reward and habit-forming: the current self who has a promise they want to keep, the self who has to act that promise out until the future goal, and the future self who gets to reap the benefits. (He used the example of saving a piece of pie for one’s girlfriend: the future self will reap the rewards if the intermittent one can put up with the temptation…)
Eric’s discussion prompted a discussion amongst the crowd about behavioral economics: the sentiment of there being a 1000 books and 1000 tricks out their about habit formation: which are really relevant? I reflected afterwards that the satisfaction of watching presenters who do tracking themselves — rather than tool-making — may be that their stories naturally reflect the things that help people experiment, track, and make and break habits.
The next Boston Quantified Self meetup is slated for July 28th at the MIT Media Lab … see you there!