Topic Archives: News and Pointers

Most Young People In The United States Have Used A Health App

The recent report by Victoria Rideout and Susannah Fox, “Digital Health Practices,Social Media Use,and Mental Well-Being Among Teens and Young Adults in the U.S.” deserves sustained attention for its exploration of the relationship between social media and mental health in teens and young adults. While the study is designed to contribute some realism to the question of whether social media is associated with depression, it contains some important basic data about what’s going on with the use of technology generally. Based on a national survey fielded by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, the study is the only one I know of that has carefully examined into how often young people use apps to track their health and wellbeing. Key results include:

  • 64% of young people have used health apps
  • 26% report having used a nutrition related app
  • 20% have used an app to track menstrual cycles
  • 11% have used apps related to meditation or mindfulness

These are large numbers. And yet, as many QS toolmakers have already found out the hard way, the survey data shows that the use of these apps is episodic.

As Rideout and Fox put it:

“While 64% of young people say they have “ever” used health apps, 25% say they “currently” do. It appears that many young people are using health-related apps for just a short time – to reach a goal, for example.”

We’ve recently been in a lot of conversations with toolmakers about how difficult it is to sustain a business offering apps and devices for self-tracking. If a quarter of all young people are currently using apps for things like nutrition, menstrual cycles, and mindfulness, and nearly two thirds of all young people have given these kinds of apps a try, why have toolmakers found that creating a business to support this practice is so hard to sustain?

An obvious guess is that the problem lies with business models that require customers to pay monthly fees, or consistently upgrade devices. Where people are tracking in order to learn – and stopping once they’ve learned something or otherwise lost interest – these kinds of businesses will get in trouble.

There’s a lot to think about in this report, but what sticks with me most after reading through a couple of times is the strong force impelling young people to try to find out more about the health topics that concern them. In survey of around 1300 young people, nearly 500 people shared a favorite health app in the open ended response section. Six percent of the respondents wrote about a mental health topic they had researched that wasn’t listed on the survey, and an equal number mentioned a physical health issue that wasn’t listed. We often talk about the value of self-tracking and self-experiment for people who are thinking about something that that doesn’t match the common pattern. The challenge of understand something that doesn’t seem to “fit” is strongly felt in the many touching quotes from the open ended response sections with which the report ends.

I won’t steal them for this post: go find them at the link above.

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New QS Devices

While a student at UC Berkeley, I was awed by the miniaturized devices created in the engineering department for neuroscientists. Eventually, these devices will enable entirely new kinds of Quantified Self projects. Here are three especially promising projects I came across while studying for my degree in neurobiology.

Temporary Tattoo EEG


Where: UC San Diego

Who: Professor Todd Coleman’s Neural Interaction Lab, and recent graduate Dr. Dae Kang

What it does: Continuous monitoring of vital signs can be uncomfortable, high noise, and restricted to hospital environments. However, recent developments in flexible, stretchable electronics are allowing metrics like brain activity (via EEG) to be measured wirelessly and with high precision. A typical EEG involves attaching electrodes to the scalp with glue and gel, connected to wires and heavy machinery. The temporary tattoos under development in the Coleman lab accomplish the same thing wirelessly. Due to improved conformability to the skin – they can even reduce motion artifacts in comparison to standard machinery. Further, the technique is modifiable: different miniature sensors can be added depending on the desired application.

QS Impact: Consumer versions of this bendable technology could help improve the notoriously low efficacy of wearable sleep staging and improve hospital visits. For example, Dr. Dae Kang is developing the use of a single wearable tattoo for determining sleep stage. Dae has also helped develop stretchable electronics for monitoring neonatal EEG and temperature. These permitted infants in the neonatal intensive care unit to be held by caregivers and freed of the isolating tangle of wires that normally monitor their vital signs.

Non Invasive Gut Activity Monitoring


Where: UC San Diego

Who: GI Innovation Group, and recent graduate Dr. Armen Gharibans.

What it does: Think of the electrogastrogram (EGG) as an EEG for your gut. Because your gut contains the largest number of nerve endings outside your central nervous system, it gives off quite a bit of electrical activity. The location and intensity of this signaling can be used to extract information about digestive activity comparable to that normally attained via invasive measures (is the activity stably periodic, or disrupted? Is the power of the activity lower or higher than is normal for you?). These invasive measures – picture a gastroduodenal manometry probe wired down your throat – are uncomfortable, can require sedation, and limit regular mobility. Further, current methods typically gather recordings for only a few hours, limiting the ability to observe digestion over the ‘cycle’ of a day or more.  By contrast, the EGG is worn as an electrode array on the abdomen. It collects up to 24 hours of continuous gut activity and heart rate as the wearer walks, sleeps, eats and even exercises. Because it’s fairly comfortable (I was lucky enough to use it in a QS project and can attest to this!) it’s easy to collect multiple days of data – allowing comparison of that individual to themselves rather than to a population average. Dr. Ghariban’s technique is a breakthrough in filtering: locating a clean and biologically relevant signal through the skin and muscle wall as the electrodes are jostled by the person’s movements is no small feat. With a cleaner and easier-to-acquire signal, Armen can begin to gather enough recordings to start classifying which patterns are representative of ”healthy” and ”unhealthy” gut activity.

QS Impact: Researchers are currently using the EGG to study how our digestion works during wake, sleep, and recovery from illness. The goal is to map the periodic process of digestive motility and generate non-invasive biomarkers for health and impending illness. Rather than being constant through time, or changing linearly, gut activity oscillates across the day and night. These patterns need much more study, but hint that it might be possible to find a phase of oscillation during which it is better to eat a meal.  The EGG was recently used as part of an incredible case study: observing the restart and re-stabilization of intestinal activity following bowel surgery. In concert with microbiome testing, target applications of the EGG include diagnosing functional gastric disorders like gastroparesis (a condition affecting more than half of diabetics and Parkinson’s patients, where food is not moved through the digestive tract in a timely manner), and helping you learn what times of day are physiologically best for you to eat.

Smart ‘Dust’


Where: UC Berkeley

Who: Professor Kris Pister, PhD candidate David Burnett

What it does: Wearables are shrinking over time, but how small could they become? The Smart Dust project seeks to overcome size constraints in power source and radio communication in order to reduce the size of an autonomous sensor to 1 mm. In one fascinating part of this project, The Pister Lab and PhD candidate David Burnett are creating 4mm sq. chip. It can capture light, temperature and activity – but will be modifiable to carry more sensors. What is novel about the approach is the integration of a new kind of radio, and a solar rather than battery power source. Both provide engineering challenges, but the result will be a sensor that powers itself, and is able to send and receive information from a much much smaller chip.

QS Impact: Integrating these chips into clothing or jewelry, and scattering them about the environment have many potential applications. The application for which the chip is initially being designed is the continuous monitoring of circadian rhythms: our body’s way of anticipating periodic environmental change. Disruption of these rhythms is associated with myriad chronic diseases, but these rhythms are not usually monitored with an eye toward mitigating disruption.

For example, we all hear that we should limit blue light exposure in the evening – and that a weekend of camping can help re-align our bodies to the day night cycle. But we currently lack easy, consumer wearables that are tailored to measure just how ‘misaligned’ our bodies are. Smart dust that collects light, temperature and activity data from users and their ‘natural environments’ aims to create a poignant representation of health by helping people understand the stability of their behavior and physiology in relation to their environment. A more distant application is the development of autonomous sensor networks. Precise, wirelessly transmitting and energy harvesting, these networks could be used for health monitoring with zero input from the user, to allow them to truly forget they are ‘wired in’ to a device.

The push for smaller, more efficacious, and less invasive health monitoring devices continues to generate fascinating new technology. The projects deserve our attention and support. And while they aren’t on the consumer market yet, we can’t wait to try them.


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The First Quantified Self Women’s Meetup

I’ve been organizing Quantified Self Meetup groups since 2011. After every meetup, another woman says something to me like:

I wish we could talk about [  women’s specific health topic  ].

I’d like to give a talk about [ … ] , but it doesn’t feel like it would fit in.

My tracking isn’t quantitative enough to give a talk.

If it were just women, I could give a really interesting talk about [ … ].

There are 500 Show & Tell talk videos online. I couldn’t find any on periods, yet women have probably been self-tracking this for, oh, somewhere around 100,000 years.

So now we’re creating a space for some of the conversations that have been notably missing from the QS community as a whole.

The first Quantified Self Women’s Meetup will take place in San Francisco this Wednesday. The group is for women and people who identify as non-male. True Ventures is graciously hosting our first meeting, and Square will host the second gathering. If you’re in the Bay Area, we’d love to have you join us!

The intention of a women’s meetup is to create space where we, as women, feel comfortable talking about things – ideas and devices and experiments – that wouldn’t otherwise be talked about. What are we tracking? How are we tracking it? What are we learning?

Let’s make QS a community where women’s voices are heard and valued. I’m excited to see what a gathering of smart, geeky, talented, self-quantifying women talks about. There are sensor hackers, circuit designers, ux designers, and developers coming. Will new companies form, new products be designed, new experiments be sparked? Will someone finally talk about periods?

Join us! Start a women’s meetup in your city, go out for dinner or drinks and talk! Or just stay tuned – we’ll publish a write up of our event.

Amelia Greenhall is a programmer and designer at a tech startup in San Francisco. Find her work at or say hello on twitter: @ameliagreenhall.
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23andMe Sets Growth Goal Of One Million Customers, Reduces Price to $99

23andMe, a wonderful annual sponsor of the Quantified Self, has some exciting news to share with us. Check out this letter from 23andMe’s CEO Anne Wojcicki below!

Today we’re announcing some big news. I don’t want this moment to go by without a note of gratitude to our customers and those who have been advocates for 23andMe over the years.

We have come a long way together.  Because of you we pioneered the use of personal genetics.  You are helping us establish a new medical era that is defined by wellness, disease prevention, and personalized care.  You also helped us create a novel research platform.  By leveraging online tools, social networking and crowd sourcing, and combining them with genetics, we created a platform that has set the stage to transform the way pharma companies and academics do health and wellness research.

We want to do more.

23andMe has raised more than $50 million in new financing with the goal of reaching one million customers.  To help us reach our goal, we are happy to announce today, that we are dropping our price to $99.

One million customers can be the tipping point that moves medicine into the molecular era.  Hundreds of you have written to us about how genetic information changed your lives and, in some cases, saved your lives.  We believe genetics should be an integral part of health care and we will work hard in the coming year to help genetics become part of everyone’s health and wellness.

A community of one million individuals will also benefit the world.  A genetic data resource of this magnitude has enormous potential to address unanswered questions related to the contributions of genes, the environment and your health.  Understanding these factors and their interactions could lead to major improvement in diagnostics, preventive medicine and therapeutics [Collins NATURE | VOL 429 | 27 MAY 2004].

This change is not just about a new price point for personal genetic testing. It is about an ambitious plan that could transform medicine for generations to come.

If you have questions about the new pricing please go to our FAQ or email your questions to

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Quantified Self and the future of healthcare

A few months ago Quantified Self received an invitation from the Health Informatics Society of Australia to speak to their members at their annual conference hic2012. They wanted to hear a QS perspective on the future of healthcare.

I volunteered to go down under, to share some interesting self-tracking stories, and to speak about the possible impact of self-tracking on the world of healthcare. I drew analogies to the revolution caused by personal computing — the liberation of computing from the province of an elite few to a tool for the masses — to the revolution that might be caused by the advancement of personal science — a similar liberation of health science, and titled the talk “The Future of Healthcare: Innovation at the Edge”.

This was the teaser description of the keynote from the conference program:

Nearly 40 years ago in Silicon Valley, a group of pioneers leveraged technological advances and new ways of thinking to make computing personal. Computing went from being dismissed as a tool of bureaucratic control to being embraced as a symbol of individual expression and liberation. The creativity of millions of individuals was unleashed. Their experimentation has changed the world, often exceeding the innovation from traditional institutions. Today another generation is leveraging technological advances and new ways of thinking to make healthcare personal. They are developing and using tools, technologies, ideas and communities to enable and empower individuals to understand and manage their own health. They are encouraging and supporting crowd-sourced scientific advancements. What are these people doing? What tools are they using? What have they learnt? And how is all this activity going to impact traditional healthcare institutions, the nature of care services, and the pace of health technology innovation?

Click here to see the slides and my prepared remarks:


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What would you do with your microbiome sequence?

If you had access to free microbiome sequencing tests, to detect and analyze bacteria living in the nose, mouth, skin, gastro-intestinal, and/or urogenital areas of the body, what experiments would you think up?

Would you compare oral bacteria in people with lots of cavities vs. people with no cavities, look for differences between people with clear skin and acne, or sample your gut flora as you travel or change your diet? These are just examples — there are countless ideas.

As it turns out, we DO have up to 100 free microbiome profiles being offered to the QS community, thanks to Pathogenica and QS sponsor Autodesk.  Now we just have to think up some cool experiments to do.

So the challenge is on – propose an experiment in the comments, and the top experiments will be done with some of the free tests. The deadline for submitting ideas is August 31. Also, all the data will be made openly available.

Check out some background reading on microbiome sequencing at the Human Microbiome Project website and Wikipedia.

Let’s come up with awesome ideas!


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QS Conference Program Released

The third Quantified Self Conference is only 87 days away!! So we thought we’d release the program of awesome talks and sessions that will be given by QS community members. Check out the full list below, and please remember to register soon if you’d like to come – there are only 100 out of 600 tickets left. Hope to see you there!

Breakout Sessions 

Breakout 1
Saturday, 10:30 am

QS Show&Tell talks – McCaw Hall

Infographics 101: The Power of Visual Storytelling (Lankow)

Your Blue Room: the neuroscience of ideation (Kowrygo)

Habit Design (Kim)

Using Software to Exercise your brain & grow focus (Asprey)

Health Graph Hacking (Day)

The Health Optimized Patient (Gerstenfeld)

Building an open source, universal tracking platform (Haukebø)

Breakout 2
Saturday, 1:30 pm

QS Show&Tell talks – McCaw Hall

Breath Tracking – how and why (Roberts)

Is QS science? The role of QS in scientific discovery (Gartenberg)

EEG for Self-Experimentation (Sona)

Sleep Tracking (Fass)

How to evangelize QS to the mainstream (Thomas)

Separating user signal from noise and incorporating into product development (Gammell)

Breakout 3
Saturday, 3 pm

QS Show&Tell talks – McCaw Hall

Muscle testing – live experimentation! (Grey)

pH tracking for learning about inflammation, sleep, and mental performance (Fowkes)

Manly Dieting (LaPuma)

Medical data: Public resource, personal asset…or is there a third way? (Dyson, Wilbanks)

Crossing the Data Desert (Kassardjian)

The brain and self-quantification, a bidirectional relationship (Keener)

QS destroying the hospital? (den Braber)

Breakout 4
Sunday, 10:30 am

QS Show&Tell talks – McCaw Hall

Biometric Yoga (Landsee)

Cognitive Measurement (Larsen)

Using Kickstarter for QS projects (Axup)

Quantifying at Work (Reeves)

Best Practices in Dataviz (Lukehart)

Exploring the Quantified Us (Fetherstonhaugh)

States of Self-Awareness (Mitrea)

Breakout 5
Sunday, 1:30 pm

QS Show&Tell talks – McCaw Hall

Heart Rate Variability 101 (Collier)

Personal Speech Analytics (Jarrold)

Open ways to connect devices, apps, and humans (Haladjian)

Psychological and social-cultural consequences of QS going forward (van Geest)

Practice and Quantify mindful communication (Lawton)

Using smartphone and behavioral data with (Nagle)

Breakout 6
Sunday, 3 pm

QS Show&Tell talks – McCaw Hall

Before You Can Change, Know Your Behavior Type (Eyal)

10^100: Making sense of all that data (Duncan)

Time Management Design (Kotas)

Health as a Team Sport (Fung)

What business models work for QS? (Svenson)

Quant-friendly doctors and self-tracking patients (Abramson)

Calming Technology (Moraveji, Habif)

QS Show&Tell Talks

My 28-Hour Day Experiments (Betts-LaCroix)

Quantified Awesome: Tracking Time, Clothes, Stuff, and Other Little Things (Chua)

QS+1 Lessons learned from assisting in trading FOREX currencies (de Visser)

Data Does not Lie: Orgasm vs. Performance (Asprey)

Using Sensor Patterns to Predict Depression or Addiction Relapse (Larsen)

Sleep and consciousness (Kowrygo)

Genes and other strangers (Dyson)

World class performance through sleep quantification (Christopherson)

Fitting mental models to a self-tracking life (Plattel)

Debugging Life with Personal Analytics (Heeke)

To sleep, perchance to REM (Berwaldt)

Tracking breathing with wearables (Roberts)

Patterns of my achy breaky HRV heart (Dow)

Accounting for Taste: Creating a Highly Reliable Palate (Galanis)

4 months of biosignals and emotion tracking (Lai)

Sleeping Together (Betts-Lacroixs)

A group mood experiment by QS Boston (Nagle)


Lunchtime Ignite Talks

Data aggregation and exploration with Fluxtream/BodyTrack (Wright, Kemmler)

Stress relief with a biofeedback game (Janin)

Tailored meals to keep me healthy (Langheier) platform (Haladjian)

IDEO looks at the Quantified Us (Fetherstonhaugh)

Chronicling chronic lower back pain, posture & happiness (Chang)

How Olympic and Professional teams are using the quantified self tools to get a competitive edge (Valle)

The Quantified Doctor (Abramson)

Scanadu Tricorder: a doctor at your fingertips (Gentry)

The Gain and Pain of working with Health Insurers (Calbucci)

An Open and Integrated Platform for Self Tracking (Nofal)

Evolution of the Butterfleye Swimming Sensor (Hobeika)

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Creating Addictive Technology, Live Muscle Testing, and more conference fun

We’re excited to announce another new batch of sessions at the upcoming QS conference. Thanks to everyone who is stepping up to speak! The full roster of show&tell talks and breakout sessions so far is listed here.

Check out these awesome new topics:

Breakout Conversations

Is QS science?  The role of QS in scientific discovery (Daniel Gartenberg)
Creating Addictive Technology (Nir Eyal)
A Memex for the Quantified Self (Betsy Masiello and Jess Hemerly)
How to evangelize QS to the mainstream (Phillip Thomas)
Privacy Issues (Jodi Schneider)
The Health Optimized Patient (Mike Gerstenfeld)
Health as a Team Sport (Mei Lin Fung)
Exploring the Quantified Us (David Fetherstonhaugh)
Muscle testing – live experimentation! (Alex Grey)

All sessions are defined by attendees in advance of the conference, like a curated unconference. There will be overlapping breakout sessions, show&tell talks, and posters for you to choose from. We will keep posting them here as the date approaches.

If you’d like to join us, you can register here. 400 out of 600 tickets are already taken. And if you have a personal self-tracking story to share or would like to lead a breakout discussion, please let us know!

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Beijing Quantified Self?

I recently had lunch with Richard Sprague, an engineer at Microsoft Beijing. He raised the possibility of starting a Quantified Self Meetup group in Beijing. The meetings could be held in one of Microsoft’s two brand new buildings, which are in the exact center of Zhongguancun. If you might attend, please let me know (e.g., by commenting on this post).

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10 New QS Conference Sessions by Awesome Attendees

We’re excited to announce another new batch of sessions at the upcoming QS conference. Thanks to everyone who is stepping up to speak! The full roster of show&tell talks and breakout sessions so far is listed here.

Check out these awesome new topics:

Breakout Conversations

How to separate user feedback signal from noise and incorporate into product development (Nick Gammell)
Breath tracking – how and why (Danielle Roberts)
Using smartphone and behavioral data with (Michael Nagle)
How to start and run a QS Show&Tell meetup group (Adam Butterfield)
Using software to exercise your brain and grow focus (Dave Asprey)
Time management design (Michael Kotas)
Psychological and social-cultural consequences of QS going forward (Yuri van Geest)
Manly Dieting (John LaPuma)
Sleep and consciousness (Marcin Kowrygo)
The brain and self-quantification, a bidirectional relationship (Matt Keener)

All sessions are defined by attendees in advance of the conference, like a curated unconference. There will be overlapping breakout sessions, show&tell talks, and posters for you to choose from. We will keep posting them here as the date approaches.

If you’d like to join us, you can register here. 400 out of 600 tickets are already taken. And if you have a personal self-tracking story to share or would like to lead a breakout discussion, please let us know!

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