QS 101: It is Not About the Tools
June 7, 2012
There has been an exponential rise in the number of people talking and writing about Quantified Self. Some call it a movement, some call it “the next big thing.” In most, if not all cases, there is a an overwhelming emphasis on the role of technology. Be it new sensor systems, applications, or analytical tools, there is an interesting need to equate Quantified Self with technology. It should come as no surprise then that when people start asking me about Quantified Self one of the first questions I hear is, “What device should I buy?” or “What is the killer app/tool/service for QS?” Maybe this is something you’re asking yourself so let’s talk a little bit about how tools fit into the Quantified Self experience.
Think about the last home improvement project you started. Whether it was fixing a leaky faucet or replacing your carpet you most likely went about your work in a simple step-wise fashion: 1) Identify the problem, 2) Examine possible solutions, 3) Identify the most appropriate solution, 4) Gather the right tools to implement the solution, and then 5) Fix the problem. Tools don’t come in to equation until late in the game. I think the same can be said for your self-tracking or self-experiment. The tool is not the piece that defines what you should be tracking or what experiment you should run. It is merely there to help you gather information that is necessary to produce a new piece of knowledge. And that is the point of this whole endeavor – creating new knowledge. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked because in most cases knowledge isn’t as sexy as a new shiny wireless device.
So if tools are not the end-game here, what is? Let’s take a quick look at the Three Prime Questions:
- What did you do?
- How did you do it?
- What did you learn?
Those three simple questions are great guiding principle for Quantified Self and your own personal self-experimentation. You’ll notice that technology isn’t mentioned in our methodology (what some consider to be a simplified scientific method). In fact, the most important aspect of this methodology, and where we recommend you start your self-experimentation journey, is the last question: What did you learn? Perhaps it is better to phrase it this way, “What do you want to learn?” What is the question that has been nagging you lately. What lifehack, productivity secret, or health tip have you come across and wondered. “Is that true?” or “Will that work for me?” This is where all good experiments start. Whether it is a million dollar experiment in a renowned university lab or a personal experiment that starts in your kitchen, the production of new knowledge starts with a good question.
Only after you’ve identified and refined your question should you begin to look into tools that will help you produce the information that helps you develop the understanding that may lead to an answer. You may even want to develop a methodology or experimental plan before identifying what tools works best for you. In any case, keep in mind that the goal of self-experimentation, of Quantified Self, is to produce and share new knowledge.