Tag Archives: tracking
We’ve heard from our friend, and Pittsburg QS meetup co-organizer, Anne Wright, many times before. She’s a wonderful proponent of the power of self-tracking and using data, research, and continuous exploration to discover and learn about what is meaningful in your life. All of that passion stems from a personal experience with overcoming various health issues. In this talk, presented at the London QS meetup group, Anne talks about how self-tracking played the key role in helping her recover. Anne then goes on to make the case for using self-tracking to learn how to forge your own unique path towards understanding in a world built around the idea of what is normal.
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.
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
Debbie Chaves is a science and research librarian at Wilfred Laurier University and was interested in understanding her job and the various demands placed on her time. Using methods she’d employed previously she set about tracking different aspects of her work. The data she gathered allowed her to advocate for new changes and policies within her library. In this video, presented at the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference, Debbie explains her tracking, what she found, and what she was able to accomplish.
There are many people in the QS community who are fascinated by understanding productivity. We’ve featured many different talks that explore different methods for tracking and hopefully improving productivity. At the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference we were happy to continue this exploration with a show&tell talk by Brian Crain. Brian has been thinking about his productivity since 2011. He tried a few different methods, but he’s found that using the pomodoro technique has been very helpful in understanding and improving his work. Watch his talk below to learn what he found by tracking the number of pomodoros he completes each day and what new methods he’s using to make sure he gets things done.
You can also view the slides here.
What did you do?
I started tracking my work time using the Pomodoro Technique in 2011 and have been logging all my sessions since September 2012. While, I have kept experimenting with different productivity methods, my consistent usage of the Pomodoro Technique has given me a great view of changes over time. I also discussed my experience with tracking my commitments over the past months.
How did you do it?
For the Pomodoro Technique, I would set a task, work on it for 25 minutes, then log the task. Over time, I built a large excel sheet that automatically updates with a variety of metrics that tell me how much productive time I spent working and how that has changed over time. For the commitment tracking, I would use an agenda, where I write down all commitments. I would then cross out completed commitments and track my compliance at the end of each day.
What did you learn?
I learned that having a continuous metric is enormously motivating since it allows you to continually improve yourself. These small, continuous changes make a huge difference over time. I also learned that building a user-interface is tricky, but very important to make tracking rewarding. This is something I successfully did with the Pomodoro Technique, but have found difficult to replicate with other methods. Finally, tracking commitments has taught me how critical one’s mindset is. When I would slip into thinking of commitments as simple tasks, my success with that method derailed completely. So for that method, I realized how important it is to build a system and user interface that helps maintain the commitment mindset.
Steve Dean is the co-organizer of our New York City QS meetup group. He’s also an avid self-tracker, using different methods and tools to understand his life. About three years ago Steve started to experience inflammation along his eyelids. After seeing a dermatologist and being diagnosed with atopic dermatitis he was prescribed a treatment regiment. He wanted to understand if the treatments were working so he created a Google Form to track his symptoms and the treatments he was doing every day. Unfortunately the treatments didn’t work and he went back to the dermatologist. This cycle of tracking, treatment, and frustration at the lack of improvement unfortunately continued. Watch Steve’s talk, presented at the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference, to learn how tracking finally helped him understand how to get everything under control.
You can also view the slides here.
What did you do?
Organizing my symptoms and treatments for atopic dermatitis to learn what worked and didn’t work.
How did you do it?
Using my phone’s camera to visually track symptoms and Google Forms to track type of symptoms, various treatments, and how I was feeling.
What did you learn?
It helped me have quality conversations with my dermatologists based on what was working, what wasn’t working in an attempt to find a solution.
Kay Stoner has a long history of battling chronic health issues, but what bothers her the most is her experience with frequent headaches. Kay has been tracking her headaches since 2007 after she had a hard time communicating with her healthcare providers. What followed were years of attempting different types of methods of tracking, including creating her own web application. After a fair bit of trial and error she’s began to move back from more technical methods and is using her own paper-based tracking system. Watch her talk, presented at the Boston QS meetup group, to learn about her experiences and what she’s learned from tracking her headaches on paper.
I’ve found that keeping a special journal to track my headaches really helps – both me, and my doctors. After several years of trial and error, I designed a system specifically for recording details of my headaches — when and where in my head they happen, how severe they are, and the details about my life at the time. It’s quick, it’s simple, and my doctors can see at a glance where I’m having issues, without wading through a lot of medical terminology.
Yesterday we posted our first opening plenary talk from the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference. Today we are happy to post our second talk from the opening plenary session.
Kaiton Williams is PhD student at Cornell in the department of Information Science. Over the last few years he’s been interested in how people use technology to understand and create the stories of themselves. As we were exploring our 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference registrants to see what they were involved in we were immediately drawn to Kaiton’s paper from the 2013 CHI Personal Informatics Workshop, The Weight of Things Lost. We asked Kaiton to talk about his experience with self-tracking and the mental and social tension inherent in the numerical definition of life. Kaiton’s plenary talk is available below as is a transcript of the talk.
First, thank you all for welcoming me here. I do take it as a privilege to be here. This is a surreal, and a little bit frightening, experience for me. It feels in many ways like the end of a pilgrimage.
I’m a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University and over the last few years, I’ve been working to understand how we’re harnessing our devices, our applications and our algorithms to figure out just who, when, what, & why we are. I’m particularly interested in the ideologies and values that inform the things we discuss in rooms like this one, and go on to create and use.
I’m going to talk a little but about my experience with self-tracking and self-transformation and how it brought me here to this room, and then I’ll pose some ideas and questions on how we might use personal experiences like mine as a platform from which to influence the developing relationships between companies, markets, health, and our data.
And while my talk is fancily titled in your program as “The Weight of Things Lost,” I really could have gone with “All I Wanted Was a Flat Stomach and Six- Pack Abs” It was this, more than any high-minded investigation into technology, or a community, or our practices, that got me started and kept me going.
My story began about 28 months and over 1.3M calories ago. Like many tales, it began at Christmas. I was experimenting with a polaroid camera one day, and as I watched my picture develop, I realized how out of shape I had gotten. Even though I thought I was in control of my diet and getting enough exercise I had been slowly but steadily gaining weight without paying much attention. I looked, in my own estimation, terrible. Granted, as physical problems go, this was a minor calamity but I wanted to do something about it. But I realized that I didn’t know how exactly to go about it. I wasn’t sure what good goals where or even what I was capable of. And I definitely had little formal idea of how to manage my consumption to meet them.
2 ½ years later and this remains something that I consider with a fair amount of irony. I was among a group of researchers who had been critical of the persuasive and reductive logic that powered many of the popular diet control and tracking systems. But now I found myself in need of them.
This was the time and place of my first conflict. As a researcher now seeking to modify my body how could I participate in systems like these and still champion the resistance against them? Would I be taking them down from the inside?
Maybe after I got my 6 pack, washboard abs. THEN, then it would be down with the tyranny of rational digital systems and self-surveillance.
What I told myself was that I would be able to develop a personal, inside understanding that was tied to a real personal need. Surely this was better than just critical analysis lobbed in from the outside? So I swallowed my pride and looked for help. And, as it turned out, there were many apps for that.
In the months that followed I assembled & auditioned a shifting conglomerate of tracking apps, sensors, and databases. I scheduled full body density scans, blood panels, and metabolic breath tests. It didn’t take very long before I began to read my life through the prism of my tools and data. I had found new units of measure, new ways of marking my time, my mind, and my body. For 18 months, not a single day passed where I did not enter, in almost excruciating detail, what I had eaten and planned to eat. My tools were my oracles, and I consulted with them regularly.
Their effect was strong even though I knew intellectually that I was reacting to numbers, colors and graphs based on rough estimates, or provisional theories. I knew that, by describing my body as a precise system that would go out of sync based on small discrepancies, an industry benefited by positioning their tools and systems as indispensable and necessary guide in my life.
But once I began to see successes, I felt a strong sense of fidelity to my system; an ordained from Logos desire to keep the record true. And, over the months I steadily made my life more calculable by streamlining my diet to in turn streamline how I input data into my tools. I avoided complex recipes and prioritized foods that best fit the capabilities of my databases and sensors.
Halfway in, I spent the better part of one morning trying to figure out what happens to the calories in baking powder once baked into a cake. For that matter actually, I swore off cake.
Surprisingly though, I found a freedom & spiritual joy in this calculation and control, and ample room in its reduction. It was, reassurance itself. Together, my conglomerate and I had constructed a digital model of my self that I fully bought into and managed. I was managing myself, it seems now, by proxy.
I became worried about going it alone though. What would I do without my systems? How would I maintain the goals that I had developed and now hit? I think a lot about the transformation.
The numbers showing my weight and fitness level fill me with as much pleasure as fear. Can I maintain this state without help from my system? And even if I do cast these systems aside, would doing so really lead to any better engagement with my self? What happens if these tools are no longer supported, or if the people behind them make business or ethical decisions that I can no longer support?
And this is how I ended up here: to get your help in answering the questions.
I had begun this journey this to feel in better control of my self and to be healthy and fit. I definitely feel healthier but am I really in control? It is this last move, from personal questions to broader political ones, that concerns me the most— particularly when being healthy no longer seems to mean just avoiding being sick but continuously optimizing our selves. Self-tracking habits are becoming mainstream and I believe that how we are globally perceiving and contesting our possibilities is being reshaped through discussions and design decisions made at conferences like this one.
Our conversations are already embracing holistic ideas of well-being that stretch beyond the easily quantifiable, but we should also incorporate and question how our personhood and our work is increasingly being defined not just by ourselves, but by an array of others that includes entrepreneurs, governments, institutions and corporations that are all building on our desire to optimize our selves. If we understand that the work done in this community affects practices in the wider world, how can we begin to explicitly shape those relationships?
I think we can use our diverse store of personal knowledge to construct platforms for doing just that. Focusing on personal experience doesn’t have to be seen as a retreat from focusing on others, but instead can be a strong foundation from which to develop empathy for the experiences of others and to understand their implications for our joint lives.
And so to close, I’d like to pose these questions to you:
If our new abilities to measure and track our selves are forming the basis of what it means to be modern, healthy and connected, how can we use personal experiences like mine and the ones we’ll hear this weekend, to tackle not just the question of what does the collection and availability of data means for n=1/just me, but what it might mean for others? Particularly, others who might not be in the same circumstances, or might not have the same ability or availability to join this community? How do we incorporate the perspectives of the many who can’t participate here, are overlooked and marginalized, but whose lives will eventually be affected by practices that spiral out from ours?
Can we transform our wealth of personal and experiential data into a platform for improving our connection to those around us and to the broader world?
When we host our Quantified Self Conferences we put a lot of effort into our plenary sessions. Those sessions open and close each day and they’re the only time that all the attendees are together to listen and learn from speakers and presenters. Our opening plenary is especially important to us. It sets the stage and tone for the conference and we take special care to make sure it puts people in the frame of mind we encourage for the conference. One of being open, thoughtful, and ready to experience all the different parts of our lives that QS can touch.
Today we’re posting our first opening plenary talk, Leaning Into Grief, by Dana Greenfield. We heard about Dana’s self-tracking story just a few weeks before the conference. She mentioned that she was using different methods to help her track her grief after her mother passed away in February of this year. We knew then that this was a special project, something that would help our community understand how self-tracking can go far beyond seemingly simple things like step tracking and reach into our lives to help us understand deeper parts of ourselves. We invite you to watch Dana’s talk and read the transcript below. We hope you enjoy it and learn from it as much as we did.
Starting when I was about 14 years old, my mother began a gifting tradition, imposing upon me a collection of small Hungarian porcelain figurines: ‘So you’ll have something to remember me by’, she would say, rather darkly.
She somehow knew she’d die before she was 65 and lived pretty intensely as a result. The gestures were sort of light hearted, but also pointed to her deep discomfort with her legacy. We would have teenage quarrels with her about the gifts–that they were affected sentimentality, a false set of memories…some things you can’t force. But she tried.
These morbid birthday gifts stand less for her role in my life and more for her anxieties around mortality, remembrance, and being a good enough mother. But her fears didn’t paralyze her. Rather, she lived more in a day than most did in a week. She was a surgeon, professor, researcher, entrepreneur, blogger, tennis player, and mentor to many, including me, a medical student myself.
In September, fit and healthy, and with so much left to offer, she mysteriously fell down stairs resulting in a major head trauma. After 6 months in the hospital, her coma was upgraded to a persistent vegetative state–she would never wake up, a strong body divorced from its once formidable mind.
She ultimately passed on in February. But she was really gone the moment she fell. Then, I began to move through life differently, and I wanted to capture it. I knew that the early experiences I was having with this acute loss would change, evolve, deepen or maybe disappear.
Like when I would reach to call her about an article I read, or about a lecture I just heard. Taking a beat to remember she no longer exists. The world implodes for just an instant. I also wanted to track how I felt. Perhaps it was because I desperately hoped it would change, that I could watch myself crawl out of the despair and anxiety of the early days in the intensive care unit. But I also wanted to concretize her legacy in my life. Along with those wincing moments where her absence is acutely felt, I wanted to watch those crushing moments soften to fond memories.
So– what did I do? For a while I kept a journal with 750 words and tried to use its metadata function, to track things like anxiety or memories or place. I also dabbled with some mood tracking. But they just didn’t quite fit. Mood tracking seems to assume that you want to track away the sadness. But grief is not pathological. It’s just hard. A journal was helpful but it required setting aside a time of day–it didn’t help me catch the kinds of ephemeral moments that I encountered in the context and natural flow of my life.
Then I had a bit of a breakthrough. At one of the QS meetups, one of the presenters talked about an early spreadsheet based project where she used a google form on her phone to track on the go. Just by creating a link to a custom made Google Form, i could make my own kind of app, a dedicated place to go to log my experiences with memory and loss. “Mobilizing” my project enabled me to track these experiences as I met them. Pausing just for a moment for each one. I called it “leaning into grief” because instead of compartmentalizing, I was moving through the experience of loss, giving it more space to work itself out in my life. I keep editing the form as I go, but right now it has 4 simple questions:
1. The first I call “mom sightings” where I can choose what kind of encounter i had with her (a sight, sound, smell, memory, topic of conversation,).
2. Second, I have a comments box. Here, I thought I would just write one or two words to mark the event: new bicycle or grant writing. But it turns out that the text box became an invitation to pause, reflect, and go deeper into the memory, the feeling or experience. I end up micro-journaling for just a few sentences. Not only have I been marking the most immediate impression of the moment, but I find myself exploring it further, fleshing out the imagery or events, reminding myself of more that was past that seemed hidden.
3. Third, I mark the location– at home, in transit, in a café?
4. Last, I choose the mood or affect. Importantly, I structured the form to allow me to choose more than one at a time. Grief is strange and special in that you can experience multiple, seemingly incongruent emotions at the same time. I am often nostalgic, sad, lonely, angry, anxious, as well as happy. More so, creating my own form allowed me to name my moods myself, trying as best I could to pin point what I felt. I find I’m often “warmed,” which, for me, is like feeling fond and grateful at the same time.
Finally, while I can’t put photos in a google form, i use flickr to have a dedicated app to log places or things that accompany my sightings. And I added moves to help me with location. The idea is to both visually and viscerally capture the effects things, people, places, and conversations have on eliciting my mother’s place in my life.
Have I learned anything? I’m not sure. I know I’ve experienced life and loss differently as a result. I know that I have given myself the time and the space to hold on to a fleeting and biting memory, explore it, cherish it, and then place it away in my growing archive. There has been something therapeutic in that.
The kinds of things I’ve logged have been as silly as a q-tip (providing flashbacks to her clinic) or as serious as a holiday. I’m sure if I had my brother and sister do the same thing, they would have tracked a completely different mom.
The aim is not to capture a true facsimile of her life. It’s almost the opposite. My hope is to track her in relation to me, or perhaps it’s me in relation to her. That is, a self that is porous to others, constituted through others, and essentially vulnerable to the ways that others impress themselves in our lives and minds. Here, the other–my mother–is not a static variable. She still morphs and changes through my recollection and reflection with her. She still has a very real impact on my life. Logging it in this way just brings that very explicitly and directly to the fore.
Following the funeral, so many of our friends came to our side and promised: ‘she will live on in you’. At first it’s not really what you want to hear–it’s just not good enough. What you really want is a time machine.
Wondering how to hold tight to her memory, I would spend time in her basement office, meditating over her huge collection of books, files, multiple white boards and notebooks and calendars, awards, and gifts from patients. I thought–there must be a way to capture it all. she had already left such a profound footprint in the world—between her websites and students and patients. How could we make it last a bit longer?
I would then go to my childhood room and stare at my Herend collection–the tiny lovely animals and boxes that sat, kind of pointlessly there. I had a secret wish that I hadn’t resented these gifts, that I had catalogued each one, as if they were an accession in an archive–which birthday? was it snowing? what was my reaction? But perhaps they have more meaning as a fuzzy aggregate, standing for something she desired—to be remembered, cherished.
But her real legacy is in my daily life–when I have a hard time writing an essay or grant because she was my first and last editor. Or coming across the practice sutures she gifted me to help me become a surgeon. Wherever I go, there she is. On a daily basis she catches me off-guard, popping in and out of my life with little clues and cues. That’s the legacy that matters.
I am at the beginning of this lives-logging project. Its results are largely still unknown. Maybe I will see a trend in affect with location or affect over time. Maybe I will be able to visualize my anger and longing ripen into warmth and gratitude.
Or, perhaps I’m writing the data now but reading them never. But so far, it seems that each writing and logging is a reading and re-reading of sorts, enabling a moment of interpersonal and intergenerational exchange that remains far more fragile, malleable, full of potential and, therefore, more meaningful than the memorabilia on my shelf or the spreadsheet.