Will You Benefit From a Quantified Self?

I’m not a number. I’m a lot of numbers…

I’m glad Steve Wheeler had a look at what it means (and could mean in the future) to live a more quantified life as I was also considering future issues after the release of the Horizon Report on Higher Education [Full report / Preview summary].

Number Garden (photo by Grafixar)

Life-logging to me is about accessing an ever-increasing amount of data relating to your day to day behaviour.

How far did you run, what was your heart rate, how many words did you write, how many times did you smile, what food did you eat and how quickly did you eat it, how long were you browsing websites for entertainment, how many hours of TV did you watch (including Internet video), when did you get exposure to sunshine, what music did you listen to, who did you spend time with…?

The point is, so much of what you do can be measured. The data can be used for educational purposes, making lifestyle decisions, finding efficiencies in what you do, staying fit, reaching goals, learning languages, and pretty much anything you like.

Overwhelm

It’s another opportunity for information overload. The data comes in useful until it becomes an overwhelming issue that needs so much time to organise and understand that you just don’t have the time to make use of it in an effective way.

A big issue could revolve around a single data set, but when you’re faced with many of these in your life, their individual simplicities becomes a mess of difficulties that you’re forever trying to juggle.

Yes, even when everything is apparently done for you. Why? Because we start to rely on the data. And the data gets used to push you in other directions when you least expect it. Perhaps.

How important is it to track absolutely everything you do? When you try to action something or develop a new habit, access to this information will be potentially wonderful. However, would you be able to take things one step at a time? As with any learning, the more focused you can be, the more dedication you can give to the matter at hand. When you’ve got loads of things on the go at once, it’s all jostling for position and giving you a headache.

Baby steps

The more data being amassed about your experiences and behaviours, the more you can take small, manageable steps towards goals, but the less likely you can isolate things while ignoring the rest of what you do.

There are many occasions when ignoring the rest would be preferable, and yet even this rarely attainable desire has its downside. For instance, all the things you do are related to everything else when you least expect it. So ignoring the bigger picture may be just as damaging or confusing in a number of cases.

You can’t win. Quantifying yourself is brilliant and will result in all sorts of developments and discoveries. At the same time, it will cause just as many difficulties and disasters.

Your future

As with so many things, you have to find out what works best for you and make many stumbles along the way. There is no simple answer. What looks crazy to the rest of the world may be perfect for you. And when you’ve completed everything despite everyone else’s protestations, it turns out your choice is no longer crazy and appears to be in fashion.

That’s just one way things can turn out. There are plenty other scenarios. Take your pick.

The quantified self is set to be awesome and awful. It’s bound to be both. And everything in between, of course. We can’t work on extremes alone!

In conclusion, a quantified self is probably not a bad prediction in the Horizon Report. This year’s predictions are all relatively sound in my view. But–as with the rise of MOOCs–how it benefits and impacts the world and individuals is never clear cut. Stuff happens and we deal with it.

So you’d better be prepared for what’s to come. Not because you know what’s going to happen, but because you can make best use of the technologies and developments for your own personal gain. And if you can help others along the way, that’d be fantastic.

All the things

I haven’t mentioned medical health, privacy and a whole host of other issues surrounding intimate data and life-logging. Seriously, read Steve Wheeler’s blog post and the links he provides for a start on that.

And read the Horizon Report too, so you can have an idea of the other things you may see in the coming months and years.

That way, you can look into your future not as a given, but as a guide.

2 comments

    1. Indeed, Aziz. Measuring all sorts of things. It’s impressive how much data we can collate now and, as you’ve found personally, how much of it can make a fundamental impact on our lives. So long as we can find that sweet spot that’s insanely useful without being overwhelming, there’s a lot of goodness to take from what’s possible.

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