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Topic Archives: Discussions
“I never thought I would be getting into this business.”
This is the first sentence in a mind-expanding talk by Larry Smarr about his self-tracking journey.
In 1999 Larry moved from Illinois to La Jolla, CA to take a position at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Like most Southern California transplants he quickly adapted to the local norms and began looking for ways to improve his fitness and health. Continue reading
Can you use technology to be more mindful?
This question was at the core of a wonderful presentation by Nancy Dougherty at the second annual Quantified Self Conference:
Nancy acknowledges at the start of her talk that QS is often thought to be mainly about technology. But not everybody sees it this way. Alex Carmichael, for instance, has described QS as “a very mindful community.”
In her talk, Nancy explains how she stumbled upon the idea of integrating mindfulness into her QS practice: Continue reading
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
Today the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released their latest findings in their ongoing research on the role of the Internet and technology in health and wellness. This latest report, Tracking for Health, is of particular interest to the Quantified Self community because it focuses on self-tracking. Thanks to Pew Associate Director, Susannah Fox, who gave us an advanced look at the results, we are able to bring you some reflections on this initial foray into measuring the impact of self-tracking.
Before we get to our discussion with Susannah it’s probably best to help set the stage with some of the most interesting findings.
Overview of Tracking
- 69% of adults track a health indicator for themselves or others.
- 34% of individuals who track use non-technological methods such as notebooks or journals.
- 21% of individuals who track use at least one form of technology such as apps or devices.
We are not the only ones curious about whether our activity level looks different when seen with different trackers. Bastian Greshake, co-founder of OpenSNP.org, has been comparing his FuelBand and his Fitbit for months. Here’s what he found.
Inspired by Ernesto’s post I wanted to take a look at how my data for the Fitbit and the FuelBand compare to each other. I started wearing the FuelBand in October of last year. Since then it has only left my wrist to recharge the battery. I was already carrying a Fitbit Ultra, which I’ve had since May 2012. I wear the FuelBand on my dominant arm. The Fitbit is usually clipped to the pocket of my jeans and I have it on my non-dominant arm while sleeping. From my day-to-day experience I have a sense that FuelBand steps are usually a good way below the Fitbit steps. But I also thought that the difference was getting smaller, probably due to firmware updates on the FuelBand.
Using the Fitbit-API (and it’s integration into openSNP) it’s quite easy to get a file that contains all step counts measured with the Ultra. If you have an openSNP account you can download the complete file, also including sleep data and body measurements here. Unfortunately the Nike+ API isn’t ready yet, so one needs to manually scrape the data. As this is boring work that can’t easily be automated I only got FuelBand step data back to 2013/11/16. Still, that should be enough to get a first insight on how both devices compare.
Gary and I were inspired to start looking into activity tracker data by James Wolcott’s comment in his recent Vanity Fair Story:
According to Fitbit, I took 7,116 steps on November 27; Jawbone has me at 2,192, a bit of a discrepancy. I prefer to believe Fitbit’s higher tally is the correct one, because that is the cotton-candy cloud on which I dwell, but perhaps I’m fooling myself and Jawbone has me accurately pegged as a potted fern. Further testing is clearly indicated, as they say in those clinical trials.
Wolcott is talking about the Jawbone Up. Neither of us own a Jawbone UP (yet), but we were nonetheless curious: do common activity trackers agree? We know that this could be studied rigorously, but the first step is just to find out what happens in our own real use. Gary had a Fuelband, I had a Fitbit. Each of us bought the one we were missing. We focused mostly on step counts as this is one of the most common metrics that activity trackers provide.
Here is a brief roundup of some of the things we’ve either collected or written about tracking mood since we first started paying attention to mood tracking back in 2008.
Get Your Mood On
Alex Carmichael and Robin Barooah have recently completed work on an excellent book detailing their experiences and knowledge gained from years of mood tracking. We’ve already posted the first three chapters of their book and are excited to bring you more in the upcoming weeks.
- Why Measure Mood and How It Can Help
- How is Mood Measured?
- Preparing Your Mental State for Self-Tracking
- DIY Mood Tracking
- Mood Sharing and Experimentation
- Exploring the Future of Mood Tracking
Mood Tracking Show & Tell Talks
Mood tracking is also a popular presentation topic at our worldwide Meetup groups. Here are a few of the talks from the last year that discuss personal mood tracking projects.
- Remko Siemerink on Mood and Music: Remko Siemerink tells his personal story of health insights through accidental lifelogging. He has bipolar disorder, and has been using last.fm over the past 7 years to track his music listening and compare it with his friends’ music patterns.
- Marie Dupuch on Mood Tracking With Colors: Marie created a rating scale based on colors as a visual metric, and a self-reported quantifiable metric, to gauge her mood over periods of time. This led her to have more awareness and provided the information she needed to make confident choices in her own life.
- Erik Kennedy on Tracking Happiness: Erik was interested in what makes him happy so he started tracking it. After categorizing hundreds of events he shares what makes him happy, what doesn’t, and some very thoughtful takeaways.
Mood Measuring Tools
Here’s a list of some of the mood measuring tools we’ve covered in the past and used in our personal lives. This list is by no means complete so if you use a mood tracker we don’t mention be sure to add it in the comments!
- Moodscope: A simple online tracker and support system. Make sure to watch founder Jon Cousin’s show & tell talk about how and why he created Moodscope.
- Moodpanda: Track your mood online or with mobile apps (iOS and Android). Read our Toolmaker Talk with founder Ross Larter here.
- Expereal: A new visual mood rating and journal application. Read our Toolmaker Talk with founder Jonathan Cohen here.
- MoodJam: An online tool to track your mood using colors and keywords. Watch founder Ian Li talk about the latest version of MoodJam at a QS Pittsburgh Meetup.
The Science of Mood Measurement
For deeper background on the scholarly work and controversy about how mood is measured here’s a long post by QS Founder Gary Wolf: Measuring Mood: Current Research and New Ideas.
What do you do to track mood? What have you learned?
This feels very fast. A year ago there were a small number of Quantified Self devices, and a sense of high geekery. I walked into the Apple Store in Santa Monica last Wednesday and this is what I saw. There isn’t much that’s more mainstream than Apple retail at the moment, and I counted twenty-two Quantified Self trackers for sale. (Two were baby trackers and one dog tracker, borderline cases, but our curiosity extends to these.)
A question for readers: What kinds of self-tracking tools aren’t here now that will be here when I take this photo next year?
Here is a key to the photo:
- Pocketfinder personal GPS locator
- Tagg GPS dog tracker
- Fitbit One and Zip physical activity sensors
- iPING personal putting coach and app
- Wahoo Fitness bluetooth heart rate strap
- Scosche Rhythm heart rate monitor armband
- Jawbone Up physical activity and sleep sensor
- Pear Training heart rate monitor and training app
- Adidas MiCoach bluetooth heart rate monitor
- Adidas MiCoach Speed Cell activity sensor
- Nike+ sports sensor
- Nike+ Fuelband physical activity sensor
- Withings baby monitor
- Philips in.Sight wireless baby monitor
- IZON Wireless Camera -
- Philips in.Sight wireless camera
- Lark sleep sensor wristband
- Lark Life physical activity and sleep sensor
- iBGStar blood glucose sensor
- iHealth wireless blood pressure wrist monitor
- Withings blood pressure monitor
- Withings wireless scale
On the QS forums, Christian Kleineidam asked:
While doing Quantified Self public relations I lately meet the challenge of explaining how our lives are going to change if everything in QS goes the way we want. A lot of what I do in quantified self is about boring details. . . . Let’s imagine a day 20 years in the future and QS is successful. How will that day be different than [now]?
Self-measurement has helped me two ways. One is simple and clear. It has helped me be healthy. Via QS, I have found new ways to sleep better, lose weight, be in a better mood, have fewer colds (due to better immune function), reduce inflammation in my body, have better balance, have a better-functioning brain, have better blood sugar, and so on. I am not an expert in any of these areas — I am not a professional sleep researcher, for example. I believe that this will be a large part of the long-term importance of QS: it will help non-experts make useful discoveries about health and it will help spread those discoveries. Non-experts have important advantages over professional researchers. The non-experts (the personal scientists) are only concerned with helping themselves, not with pleasing their colleagues or winning grants, promotions, or prizes; they can take as long as necessary; and they can test “crazy” ideas. In a QS-successful world, many non-experts would make such discoveries and what they learned would reach a wide audience. Lots of people would know about them and take them seriously. As a result, people would be a lot healthier.
Self-measurement has also helped me in a more subtle way. It made me believe I have more power over my health than I thought. This change began when I studied my acne. I did not begin with any agenda, any point I wanted to make, I just wanted to practice experimentation. I counted my pimples (the QS part) and did little experiments. My results showed that one of the drugs my dermatologist had prescribed (tetracycline, an antibiotic) didn’t work. My dermatologist hadn’t said this was possible. Either he had done nothing to learn if worked or he had reached the wrong answer. What stunned me was how easy it had been to find out something important a well-trained experienced expert didn’t know. My dermatologist was not an original thinker. He did what he was told to do by med school professors (antibiotics are a very common treatment for acne). It was the fact that I could improve on their advice that stunned me. I didn’t have a lab. I didn’t have a million-dollar grant. Yet I had learned something important about acne that dermatology professors with labs and grants had failed to learn (antibiotics may not work, be sure to check).
Skepticism about mainstream medicine is helpful, yes, but only a little bit. More useful is finding a better way. For example, it’s useful to point out that antidepressants don’t work well. It’s more useful to find new ways to combat depression. Two years ago, the psychiatrist Daniel Carlat came out with a book called Unhinged that criticized modern psychiatry: too much reliance on pills. No kidding. Carlat recommended more talk therapy, as if that worked so well. As far as I could tell, Carlat had no idea that you need better research to find better solutions and had no idea what better research might be. This is where QS comes in. By encouraging people to study themselves, it encourages study of a vast number of possible depression treatments that will never (or not any time soon) be studied by mainstream researchers. By providing a way to publicize what people learn by doing this, it helps spread encouraging results. In the case of depression, I found that seeing faces in the morning produced an oscillation in my mood (high during the day, low at night). This has obvious consequences for treating depression. This sort of thing will not be studied by mainstream researchers any time soon but it can easily be studied by someone tracking their mood.
In a QS-successful world, many people would have grasped the power that they have to improve their own health. (You can’t just measure yourself, you have to do experiments and choose your treatments wisely, but measuring yourself is a good start.) They would have also grasped the power they have to improve other people’s health because (a) they can test “crazy” solutions mainstream researchers will never test, (b) they can run more realistic tests than mainstream researchers, (c) they can run longer tests than mainstream researchers, and (d) no matter what the results, they can publicize them. In a QS-successful world, there will be a whole ecosystem that supports that sort of thing. Such an ecosystem is beginning to grow, no doubt about it.