Tag Archives: Self-Tracking

Steven Dean: A Quantified Sense of Self

At our 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference, as with all our events, we sourced all of our content from the attendees. During the lead up were delighted to have some amazing interactions with attendees Alberto Frigo and Danielle Roberts, both of whom have been engaged with long-term tracking projects. This theme of “Tracking Over Time” was nicely rounded out by our longtime friend and New York QS meetup organizer, Steven Dean. Steven has been tracking himself off and on for almost two decades. In the talk below, Steven discusses what led him to self-tracking and how he’s come to internalize data and experiences in order to create his sense of self.

Transcript
Quantified Sense of Self
by Steven Dean

Twenty years ago, I was in grad school getting an MFA. I was making a lot of objects that had very strong autobiographical component to it. Some I understood the source of. Many I did not. Continue reading

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Alberto Frigo: A 36-year Tracking Project

AlbertoFrigo_RHand

“I’ve been systematically tracking my life since the 24th of September, 2003.”

A little over 10 years ago Alberto Frigo embarked on an ambitious project, 2004-2040, to understand himself. Starting with tracking everything his right (dominant) hand has used, he’s slowly added on different tracking and documentation projects. Keeping the focus on himself and his surrounding has helped him connect to himself and the world around him.

Beside the more technical challenges ahead, I have learned how much we can engage in tracking and quantifying ourselves. I have learned that I am what I track and in this respect what I track shapes my life. I believe that every individual can activate him or herself to record his or her life and create a playful engagement with an otherwise dull surrounding. In my opinion then, it is a very healthy commitment as it makes us more aware as well as more engaged with our everyday life.

At the 2014 Quantified Self Conference Alberto led our second day opening plenary, which focused on “Tracking Over Time.” We invite you to watch his talk and read the transcript below to learn about his plans for the next 26 years and what hear what he’s learned through this process.

Transcript
Good morning everyone and thank you for inviting me to this inspiring and well organized event! My name is Alberto Frigo, I am 34 years old, and I was born in a small village in the Italian Alps but I have spent most of my life abroad doing media research and living in Northern Europe, North America and China. Currently I live in Sweden where I have been systematically tracking my life since the 24th of September 2003. I clearly remember that day: it was very sunny in Stockholm, but I felt very frustrated since I was about to start a residency the following day and the wearable computer I had for two years designed to record my life was not working. I was walking through the city with my frustrations when I passed by a tiny store selling dusty photographic equipment. In the middle of it there was a brand new and tiny digital camera. I immediately gave up all my frustrations with the clumsy wearable I had so far been constructing, and just got that very camera to start photographing every object my right hand use.

It has been more then 10 years since I have started that project, to be precise today the 11th of May 2014, is my 3.882nd day I have been photographing every object my right hand uses. With this project, my idea is to track all my daily activities that I do through the very objects I utilize to accomplish them. In total, I have been photographing 295.032 activities, an average of 76 objects a day and one picture every 15 minutes, depending on how busy that day has been. I have also discovered that, if I keep up the project until I turn 60, I will have photographed 1.000.000 objects and could thus claim to have some kind of DNA code of my life, or at least of the core of my life as a mature individual. I like to see this code as made of a continuous sequence of repeating elements, the objects I use as the letters of an alphabet which can give rise to different patterns and understandings.

In this respect, I have embarked on a 36 years long project, from 2004 to 2040, and new kinds of self-tracking projects, or life-codes have naturally come about, mostly in order to compensate the photographic tracking of activities. After a few years, in 2005, I have also started to consider to keep track of myself looking at other perspectives and using different other media such as recording my dreams through writings and recordings the songs I listen to through musical notations. Additionally, I also started to keep track of my social surrounding and the weather. I thus ended up, for example, filming every public space in which I seat and keeping track of the wind when I am outdoor. At this point of time I am conducting 36 different projects to record my life… as many as the years I mean to undertake the project. 18 of these projects are actual tracking of either myself, or the surrounding or the weather and 18 of them are elaborations, like books, gadgets or exhibitions I make about them… not the least this very speech and other meta projects like a virtual memory cathedral I will present in the office hour section after lunch.

To give you an idea of what I am up to these days, I can tell you what I have accomplished so far. Beside recording 295.032 of my activities by photographing the objects my right hand has used with this camera, I have been tracking 12.360 dreams, 5.440 songs that I have heard and recognized using this phone to keep track of them, 620 portraits of new acquaintances using this camera, 285 square meters of discarded objects picked from the sidewalk using this pouch to collect them, 1.512 news of casualties, 15.660 films of public spaces where I seat using this video-camera, 7.560 drawings of ideas, 2.760 recordings of thoughts while walking alone using this recorder, 1.704 shapes of clouds and so forth. By the way this the USB where all my work is stored, always on me.

It was not immediate to be able to track so many things at once; I have learned that one has to start with something basic and simple and then add up to new perspectives and tracking technologies, preferably crafting his or her framework. “From one thing comes another” then but I am also interested to keep up all the projects, more as some sort of a challenge in addition to simply a tool to later make sense of my life. I feel in this respect like the character of a computer game, with a mission to accomplish and this is really my drive in life, conduct these 36 tracking projects till I am 60, in 2040 then, 26 years ahead of me. 26 years in which new challenges arise such as the fact that the technology I have been deploying, like my camera, is already out of production. Well, one ought to act providently and myself, I have got a box full of these refurbished cameras… so lets just hope the operating system now won’t change too drastically in the coming years!!

Beside the more technical challenges ahead, I have learned how much we can engage in tracking and quantifying ourselves. I have learned that I am what I track and in this respect what I track shapes my life. I believe that every individual can activate him or herself to record his or her life and create a playful engagement with an otherwise dull surrounding. In my opinion then, it is a very healthy commitment as it makes us more aware as well as more engaged with our everyday life.

Saying this however, I have to warn you that it is important to give priorities also in what we track. I mostly give priorities to the tracking relating to myself, giving less priority to other forms of tracking, particularly to those forms that are more dependent to the social surrounding and I cannot control. With these priorities in mind I am rather positive that I can succeed in my self-exploration and the exploration of the world through myself, sharing my experience as time passes by and new insights are gained. I really hope my ten years old experience and commitment can be of inspiration of you. Please feel free to approach me so that I can photograph you as my 621st new acquaintance. Thank you!

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Fit Fifties, Sound Sixties: Maria Benet on Active Aging

Maria Benet began tracking her activity a few years ago as a way to lose weight and take control of her health. What started with a simple pedometer and a few custom Access databases has morphed into a multi-year tracking project that includes news apps and tools. Her progress and data has even spurred her on to new experiences and athletic endeavors. Watch her talk, filmed at the Bay Area QS meetup group, and read the transcript below.

(Editors Note: We’re excited to have Maria attending the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference where we hope to hear an updated version of this wonderful talk.)

What did I do?

Hi, my name is Maria Benet and I am happy to tell you that only about two-thirds of me is here to talk about my tracking project. I mean that literarily, because in the 10 years since I’ve been self-tracking I lost over 50 pounds while getting fitter.

In my early 50s, I was overweight, out of shape, with bad knees, and when not cranky, depressed. I was already on meds for high blood pressure and was looking at the prospect of more prescriptions down the road.

So, what did I do to change my situation? I set about tracking my activity levels, my weight and my food intake with the help of apps, wearable devices – plus — in databases and Excel spreadsheets that I designed. Until late 2011, I tracked inconsistently, but once I discovered mobile apps and wearable devices — I became more systematic and consistent about tracking weight, food intake, and fitness data.

How did I do it? 

When I first started — losing 50 pounds seemed daunting, but going for a walk at least 5 days a week seemed less formidable. To track walks I was going to take in the hilly neighborhood where I live, I created a simple Access database.

I bought a pedometer, hiking shoes, and off I went. After walking, I recorded the duration, the number of steps, and calculated the distances I covered. I also charted my routes by naming the streets, and made notes about the weather and my mood during the walk.

Recording the data turned out to be a form of reward in itself. At the start of this tracking project, I enjoyed seeing the database grow a little more than I enjoyed the actual walks themselves.

Over time, the walks got longer, steeper, and eventually included actual hikes. I also took up the practice of Yoga regularly, and then added Pilates to my exercise repertoire.

Along the way, I also started to lose weight. Though I didn’t weigh myself every day, I began to pay attention to the kinds of foods I ate and tried to wean myself off processed foods in general.

They say you get fit in the gym, but lose weight in the kitchen. In September 2011, when I discovered LoseIt, it became my virtual kitchen: LoseIt helped me see what foods I ate regularly, which of these spiked my weight, even if my calorie intake stayed the same. I noticed these relationships anecdotally, rather than by finding statistical correlations between them.

Tracking in LoseIt helped me realize that as much as I love bread and beer, they are not my friends. Two years ago, an allergist confirmed my wheat sensitivity through blood tests and an elimination diet.

I added Endomondo to my tool box a few months later, since I liked having the maps and stats it offered, in addition to the other data it showed. By December I also added a Fitbit, as with it I could track more accurately how many steps I took and approximate better the number of calories I burned. The Fitbit was like going back to the pedometer, but to one on steroids.

With the Fitibit, I focus mostly on the Very Active Minutes it claims to measure. Increasing that number over time became a game. In 2012, I was averaging about 57 minutes a day, which put me in the 98th percentile. Increasing to 69 minutes only brought me to the 99th percentile, as the Fitbit population also has increased over time.

The Fitbit turned out to be a catalytic tool, because it spurred me on to push the perceived limits of my fitness abilities and possibilities further. It ended up putting wheels under my dreams.

In the spring of 2012,I took up cycling to increase my active minutes and challenge a mental habit of opting out of things because of a fear of failure or thinking of them as not age appropriate. Biking, in turn, added to my collection of gadgets and apps for tracking the metrics involved.

By 2012 then, in addition to LoseIt and Fitbit, I was tracking workouts with a Garmin GPS watch with a HR monitor and my bike rides with a Garmin Edge computer, uploading the data to the Garmin site, to Endomondo and Strava, as each had strengths the other lacked, from my perspective.

To complicate data gathering, back in January 2012, I started a basic Excel spreadsheet that tracks highlights from each of these apps in an application-independent reference for me. In Excel I track the type of activity, duration, distance, if applicable, average and maximum heart rate, Strava suffer points, (a measure of exertion), the hours I slept and how that sleep seemed to me, and additional notes about the day I might think relevant.

The plethora of my gadgets and apps might earn me an entry into the next edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But exploring these tools was, and still is, my way of looking for a comprehensive and personalized way to track the quantities in my habits and activities that make for a qualitative difference in my life … which brings me to what I learned so far:

What did I learn?

I learned that small quantitative changes in particular daily habits add up to a big difference in quality of life in general.

The incremental additions in my tracking methods and number of gadgets I added produced a lot of data, which I haven’t analyzed closely, because I was already getting a lot of return from them in the form of new experiences in my life.

The most memorable of these experiences is my having completed the metric century ride on the Tour de Fuzz in Sonoma last September. In the space of a little over a year I went from covering barely 8 miles in an hour on my first rides to completing 63 miles in 5 and ½ hours and feeling ready to ride a lot more.

It has been said that motivation is what gets us up and going, but it’s habit that keeps us going. So it is with my tracking: though the motivation was to lose weight, the habit of tracking and keeping an eye on the numbers are what allowed me to go from daily small changes to a much bigger transformation from the overweight, depressed, and achy person I was 10 years ago to who I am now: someone interested in health and fitness and setting goals I can meet.

I learned that for me the act of tracking is the project itself. Although the data I generate can be charted and described in numerical relationships the number that brings me the information that makes a difference in my life, is a simple 1 – or tracking one day at a time.

I love to see the numbers my Garmin and Fitbit generate, but in the end, the quantified self for me is not so much about the measured life as it is about keeping those numbers coming through a well-lived and, more importantly, well-enjoyed life as I go from my fitter fifties into what I hope will be my sounder sixties.

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Conference Preview: Bill Schuller on Self-Tracking with Children

QSSF13PREVIEW

How will children respond to a world where personal data is ubiquitous? Bill Schuller is starting to find out with his two young children and will be sharing his story at the upcoming 2013 Quantified Self Global Conference.

BillSchullerBill started tracking his exercise and weight in 2010. His preschool-aged son, listening to his father talk about his daily metrics at the dinner table, began to imitate Bill’s tracking behavior, regularly stepping on the scale, not to watch his weight, but to “just check my numbers.” Bill then designed tracking games for him and his son. One of them involved putting things away in the house while tracking steps and gaining “clean-up points.”

This fun talk will feature more stories on the creative ways Bill and his children are playing with self-tracking. As a preview, we have a version of the talk that he gave in San Diego in March 2012. Watch the video and then find out at the conference what further data adventures Bill has had with his kids in the last year and a half.

The Quantified Self Global Conference will be held in San Francisco on October 10th and 11th. Registration is now open. As with all of our conferences, our speakers are members of the community. We hope to see you there!

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Conference Preview: Rosane Oliveira on The Tale of Twins

QSSF13PREVIEW
At our Quantified Self conferences we focus our show&tell talks on personal, first person narratives of self-tracking and self-knowledge. But what if first person is actually two people instead of one? Well, that’s when things get interesting!

At the upcoming Quantified Self Global Conference we are excited to have Dr. Rosane Oliveira talking about her self-tracking experiments that she’s been conducting with her twin sister. This great talk will include explorations of genetic testing, metabolic biomarkers, gut microbiome and mobile monitoring of diet, weight, sleep, mood, and activity levels.

Lucky for us, we’ve already received a preview of sorts in the form of a wonderful talk Rosane presented at the Bay Area QS meetup group in March of 2012. Watch the video below and come prepared to learn more about what you Rosane was able to learn when she started tracking with her genetic double.

The Quantified Self Global Conference will be held in San Francisco on October 10th and 11th. Registration is now open. As with all our conferences our speakers are members of the community. We hope to see you there!

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Caring and Tracking

Earlier this year we discussed some very interesting research from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project about the role of technology and the Internet in health and healthcare. We were lucky to have Susannah Fox, Associate Director at Pew,  talk to us a bit about what it means when 21% of people who track are using some form of technology. Of course, that conversation and that research spawned a few more questions and some interesting insights.

Today we’re looking at some brand new research results coming from Pew that are derived from that same research data set. This time Susannah and her team have focused on a particularly important set of individuals in the health and healthcare space: caregivers. In their recently released report, Family Caregivers are Wired for Health, they found that 39% of adults in the U.S. are caring for child or adult. So why talk about this here? What does that have to do with Quantified Self? Well, it turns out that the people who spend their time and energy caring for the health and wellbeing of others may actually be more engaged in tracking than their non-caregiving counterparts:

Tracking

  • 72% of caregivers track their health (weight, diet, exercise, blood pressure, sleep, etc.) while 63% of non-caregivers track their health.
  • 44% of caregivers who track say they track their most important indicator “in their heads” (non-caregivers = 53%).
  • 43% of caregivers who track say they track their most important indicator using paper (non-caregivers = 28%).
  • 31% of caregivers track the health of someone other than themselves.

“When controlling for age, income, education, ethnicity, and good overall health, being a caregiver increases the probability that someone will track a health indicator.”

Pew: Family Caregivers are Wired for Health

Pew: Family Caregivers are Wired for Health

Sharing

  • 41% of caregivers who track share their data with someone else (non-caregivers = 29%).

Impact

  • 52% of caregivers who track say it has changed their overall approach to maintaining their health or the health of someone for whom they provide care (non-caregivers = 41%).
  • 50% of caregivers who track say it has led them to ask a doctor new questions or to seek a second opinion (non-caregivers = 32%).
  • 44% of caregivers who track say it has affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition (non-caregivers = 26%).

We asked our friend and fellow QS organizer, Rajiv Mehta to comment on this report. When he’s not helping organize our Bay Area QS Meetup, Rajiv has been working on exploring and understanding caregiving.

“Given the prevalence of caregiving (40% of adults) and that 30% of caregivers track something about the person they’re caring for, there’s a lot of opportunity for appropriate tracking and analysis tools. However, caregiving often involves tracking a wide variety of medications, biometrics, symptoms, etc., and design and developing appropriate tools is not easy. I recently wrote about my own experiences in “Self-Care and Caregiving Apps Development.” After all these years of QS meetups and conferences, I can only recall one talk of caregiver tracking (a mother tracking the progress of her baby). Hopefully we’ll see much more over time.”

Please take some time to read the full report and for the data savy, take a look at the preliminary survey data and see what you can find. We would love to hear your thoughts on this new report here in our comments or on our forum.

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Caspar Addyman and Sara Riggare on Tracking Parkinson’s

In the fall of 2011 we hosted our first European Quantified Self Conference. It was a fantastic time and we came away with new ideas, and the pleasure of bringing together a great group of individuals interested in self-tracking and self-knowledge. We see a lot of relationships form and blossom as a result of the bringing like-minded people together for few days of intimate sharing and conversation. With our the 2013 Quantified Self Global Conference on the horizon we wanted to highlight one of those relationships.

Sara Riggare is a QS meetup organizer (Stockholm), PhD student, and Parkinson’s patient. At the 2011 QS Europe conference she met Caspar Addyman, a psychologist and researcher. Together they’ve partnered on a few projects to create self-tracking tools for the Parkinson’s community. Watch their Ignite presentation at the 2013 QS Europe Conference to learn more:

Make sure to register for our 2013 Quantified Self Global Conference. We hope to see you there!

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The State of Self-Tracking

(Co-written with Gary Wolf)

In January we started asking ourselves, “How many people self-track?”  It was an interesting question that stemmed from our discussion with Susannah Fox about the recent Pew report on Tracking for Health. Here’s a quick recap of the discussion so far.

The astute Brian Dolan of MobiHealthNews suggested that the Pew data on self-tracking for health seems to show constant – not growing – participation. According to Pew, in 2012 only 11% of adults track their health using mobile apps, up from 9% in 2011.

All this in the context of a massive increase in smartphone use. Pew data shows smartphone ownership rising 20% just in the last year, and this shows no signs of slowing down. Those smartphones are not just super-connected tweeting machines. They pack a variety of powerful sensors and technologies that can be used for self-tracking apps. We notice a lot of people using these, but our sample is skewed toward techies and scientists.

What is really going on in the bigger world? How many people are actually tracking?

A few weeks ago ABI, a market research firm, released a report on Wearable Computing Devices. According to the report there will be an estimated 485 million wearable computing devices shipped by 2018. Josh Flood, the analyst behind this report indicated that they estimated that 61% of all devices in wearable market are fitness or activity trackers. “Sports and fitness will continue to be the largest in shipments,” he mentioned “but we’ll start to see growth in other areas such as watches, cameras, and glasses.”

One just needs to venture into their local electronics retailer to see that self-tracking devices are becoming more widespread. So why are our observations out of synch with the Pew numbers?

The answer may lie in the framing of the Pew questions as “self-tracking for health?” For instance:

On your cell phone, do you happen to have any software applications or “apps” that help you track or manage your health, or not?

Thinking about the health indicator you pay the most attention to, either for yourself or someone else (an adult you provide unpaid care for), how do you keep track of changes? Do you use paper, like a notebook or journal, a computer program, like a spreadsheet, a website or other online tool, an app or other tool on your phone or mobile device, a medical device, like a glucose meter, or do you keep track just in your head?

We think it is likely that many practices we include in our definition of Quantified Self are not being captured by the Pew Research. A person who tracks a daily run with a Garmin GPS watch might show up in the wearables data that ABI looks at, and might look to us as a self-tracker for health, but might be invisible to Pew. There may be even self-tracking practices that fall outside health or wearables. We’ve seen a large number of people who track time and productivity using computer applications such as RescueTime, apps that support well-being such as meditation trackers, mood trackers, and diet trackers; and apps that support general self-reflection and journaling, such as a life-logging app. Many self-tracking practices do not fit neatly into “health.” (Though they may influence health!)

In a way, there is a parallel here to what we found when we compared Fitbit with Fuelband data. Both of them produced different numbers for “steps.” When we got into the details, we ended up thinking that this was not a matter of one being closer to the “ground truth,” but of intentionally different interpretations of messy accelerometer data. Fitbit gives more step credit for general movement, because it is a lifestyle/activity tracker; Nike might prefer to credit intentional exercise, since the Nike brand sits closer to sports. Context matters.

This confusion about what is health tracking, what fits in the frame, is closely analogous to many other confusions in the conversation about health generally. It is common now in the healthcare world to talk about how the larger determinants of public health are outside the control of the healthcare industry; for instance, diet, exercise, stress, and exposure to environmental toxins. Sometimes people who make these observations follow them with a call for the healthcare industry to begin addressing these larger concerns; for instance, to “medicalize” tracking apps by making them prescribable and reimbursable by health insurers.

But maybe this isn’t the only approach. If the “healthcare” frame isn’t adequate to capture the most important determinants of health, we could try switching frames. What our journey through the self-tracking data suggests is that the opposite approach might be useful to consider: start with the bigger world of self-care practices, and enhance these. Why? Because that’s where we trackers already are. That is, how are we deriving meaning from self-tracking? That’s the mental framework that we typically use, and that we like to use. That’s where the growth – in terms both of us, and of cultural understanding, engagement, and knowledge-making – might really be happening.

We don’t know this for sure. We take the Pew data as evidence that this approach is worth trying.

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QS at Best Buy

A month ago we showed you what we thought was the quintessential example of how Quantified Self is becoming more of a mainstream activity. During a trip to the Apple store we identified over 20 different Quantified Self devices. Another outing led me into one of the largest consumer electronics stores in the US: Best Buy.

Here, I counted over 25 different tracking devices on the shelves. I’ve split them into three categories here so you can get a sense of just how many different devices are available. With a bit of internet sleuthing I also found that additional devices are available at different stores so you might see something different in your local Best Buy.

BestBuy1BestBuy2

General Health

  1. iHealth Wireless Blood Pressure Wrist Monitor
  2. iHealth Wireless BloodPressure Cuff
  3. iHealth Bluetooth Body Analysis Scale.
  4. iHealth Bluetooth Scale
  5. iHealth Blood Pressure Dock
  6. Fitbit Aria Wireless Scale
  7. Withings Wireless Scale
  8. Withings Blood Pressure Monitor Continue reading
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How Many People Self-Track?

(Co-written with Ernesto Ramirez.)

We were fascinated by the conversation started Monday by the release of the Pew survey about self-tracking by Susannah Fox. As with any survey research, the top line results provoked the most discussion, and also some intelligent skepticism. We’ve had a few days to digest the results, and here’s our analysis of the two key questions:

1. How many Americans use technology for self-tracking?

2. Is this number growing, shrinking, or staying the same?

The always reliable Brian Dolan and MobiHealthNews pointed out that according to Pew, health-tracking numbers were unchanged since their last report in 2010. While the questions asked are not identical, it’s logical to conclude from the two surveys that the numbers are flat. Susannah Fox, who wrote the Pew report, states this clearly: “One in five trackers in the general population (21%) say they use some form of technology to track their health data, which matches our 2010 finding.”1

But wait; if this is true it is unexpected and therefore important. Continue reading

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