The Quantified Self – what it means and why we should care

“The unexamined life is not worth living”.

The Socrates quote is one of my personal favourites. It is the mantra that led me to the quantified self (QS) movement back in 2011. I have always been impressed by self-aware people and therefore it was easy for me to relate to QS ways of thinking.

The idea of quantified self refers to the counting and assessing of all daily activity to get a better understanding of who and what you really are. The idea is to look at every aspect of your life and there is no doubt some of the things you discover will scare you. You must assess things like how much TV you watch, how much time you spend looking into a mirror or how dependent you are on your smartphone. One popular manifestation of the QS movement is to track the number of steps you have taken in a day, for instance.

It goes without saying that times are changing and I firmly believe that you simply can’t expect a long and full life without working for it.

However, in the age of QS maybe we should be examining the examiners more closely?

One of the major issues arising for QS is that 90 percent of all data visualisations on the internet are false, skewed or simply wack.  As much as I love a good statistic, I now say most of them with a hint of jest. So I believe we should take a more concerted look at the stats we are being presented and what data is being measured.

Numbers are themselves only symbols of something far more complex. There are a lot of companies that only offer consumers the end data and in most cases it comes from one source. What is needed for the QS movement to be truly successful is software that sits between the data and the visualisation.

These products will change the way we look at ourselves as individuals and the world around us for the better. In order for them to take hold, however, the mass-consumer mindset needs to develop. The general public need to be made more aware of how every element of life affects human performance, whether you are a shop-keeper, a tradie or banker. We can all learn more about our own health and wellbeing and in learning more we’ll be able to lead healthier lives.

So, that brings me to the question – is ignorance bliss? I don’t think Socrates would agree and nor do I. If what you don’t know can’t hurt you, then what you do know has lots of room for interpretation. The interpretation is dangerous.

There are so many ways to gather data; so many products that claim to do different things, so how can you be sure of who to trust? How do you know the information you’re receiving is the best fit for what you’re trying to achieve?

This is where I get excited because in order for us to get a better understanding of what we’re trying to achieve and what data is being captured, we must look to wearable technology. No, think beyond the gimmicky watches or bands or anything that is solely wrist based. They have their use, absolutely. But they are not the be-all and end-all.

As the founder of and chief designer for Wearable Experiments I have to care about data more than any designer has ever cared before. I have to care about the accuracy, the safety and the meaning behind wearable technology data.

I am doing everything to look beyond what is already being quantified – hearrate, skin temperature, oxygen levels – and try to find ways of going deeper. For instance, we are yet to discover a non-intrusive way to quantify hormones. Your body is affected by these unknowns every minute of every day but the general awareness of how these affects present themselves is exciting.

I’m not saying it’s an easy task, there are some enormous variables in the equations, but it’s the kind of level I think we need to go to. One day I would also love to see the addition of emotional intelligence to this data. Going this deep will allow us to eventually democratise the data.

I don’t believe everything I read on the internet so take this with proverbial grain of salt – in the next five years more sensors and trackers will be produced than babies born…! The world is moving towards a universal acknowledgment of quantified self. From my perspective, more needs to be done in order to truly understand the data and to truly make the QS movement worthwhile.

It is that very notion which underpins my excitement for working with SMG Technologies. SMG has created an innovative and advanced product that offers a level of insight on data from multiple platforms that, in my opinion, is unrivalled globally. And I am not alone in that thought. The sports-specific product, SportsMed, for instance is used by some of the world’s best athletes and teams including Ellyse Perry, the Queensland Reds and West Ham United F.C. SMG has taken the learnings from the sports fields and created products for a whole range of industries including insurance, education and health.

So, keep your eyes peeled for the innovative companies that are leading the way in creating the next wrung of wearable technology and predictive analytics software. If your immediate thought is “why would anyone ever need that?” It’s most likely something you should take another look at!

Billie Whitehouse
Owner of Wearable Experiments and SMG Technologies Wearable Consultant