The Quantified Self: You Are Your Data

Boing Boing's David Pescovitz on better living through extensive self-measurement Since 1955, Jerry Davidson has obsessively written down...

Boing Boing's David Pescovitz on better living through extensive self-measurement

Since 1955, Jerry Davidson has obsessively written down everything he does during the day: visits to the store, telephone calls, meals, sex. Davidson has an impenetrable code, involving abbreviations and multiple colors of inks. A star on the top of a page means Jerry had a good day. Davidson never writes in the first person though, always in the third. He takes himself out of his experiences. His life is raw data.When I first heard Jerry's story, on a 1998 episode of This American Life, I thought he was just another interesting eccentric, like so many people featured on that radio program. Hearing the same program a few weeks ago though made me realize that Jerry Davidson is a pioneer. If Jerry lived in Silicon Valley and ran in the right nerd circles, he'd realize he isn't alone in his unique habit of self-measurement. Indeed, he's just another "quantified self," a person who embraces the technology at hand-in his case scraps of paper and colored markers-for deep self surveillance and analysis. A growing number of individuals are using new sensors, social networks, online data repositories, open-access science journals, and sheer discipline to view their bodies, minds, and spirits through the lens of data.

A look at the Quantified Self Wiki reveals the breadth of what people are learning about themselves. Alexandra Carmichael, co-founder of CureTogether, records 40 things about her daily life, including "sleep (bed time, wake time, sleep quality, naps), morning weight, daily caloric intake (each meal, total calculated at end of day, mealtimes, mood, day of menstrual cycle, sex (quantity, quality), exercise (duration, type)," etc. Tim Graham, a master of data visualization, collected and visualized data about the email spam he receives, how much he drinks (not just alcohol), and, "where it hurts." And Gary Wolf, a tech journalist and co-host of the wiki, is measuring his "blood pressure, heart rate, time asleep, time awake, sleep quality, perception of being rested, mood, harmony w/spouse, work hours, coffee and tea consumption.""Don't you think it's kind of obvious that if you step on a scale, there should be something that sends the information to your computer?" Wolf was quoted as saying in a recent Washington Post article. "Isn't it ridiculous to think that blood pressure shouldn't be measured at least once a day, if not several times a day?"If Wolf is the practical mind pushing the quantified self meme ahead, fellow writer Kevin Kelly is the philosopher of the movement. With Wolf, Kelly keeps The Quantified Self blog, a clearinghouse of self-surveillance information, and co-hosts the Bay Area's Quantified Self Show & Tell meetups, one of which was held at Institute for the Future, where I'm a research director."Unless something can be measured, it cannot be improved," Kelly wrote on the Quantified Self blog. "So we are on a quest to collect as many personal tools that will assist us in quantifiable measurement of ourselves. We welcome tools that help us see and understand bodies and minds so that we can figure out what humans are here for."

Even the Nike+iPod system is decidedly a quantified self tool, complete with networking capabilities to compare your progress with others online. Others a bit more niche: StressEraser is a pocket-sized digital biofeedback device that measures stress so you can stay calm. The Youw8 Internet Body Monitor fulfills Wolf's dream to wirelessly transmit weight data to your PC for analysis. BodyMedia's SenseWear BMS device keeps a vigil on energy expenditure, activity and sleep.Whether you use a stopwatch or an advanced biosensor to collect your personal data, the next step is often uploading, analyzing, visualizing, and sharing the info online. Bedpost helps you quantify your sex life. tracks and predicts menstrual cycles. Bricolage Labs offers an online collaboration platform for "discovery through self-experimentation, tinkering, and trial-and-error."Now, as Wolf has pointed out, the level of self-knowledge he and his Quantified Self kinfolk seek isn't for everyone. The Quantified Self is a spectrum, and it's up to you to find your own place within its potential. My Nike+iPod is in a perpetual state of zero acceleration. However, my wife and I are dedicated users of PearBudget, a dead simple tool to track and manage your spending. Categories, compatibility with Excel, and the defining Web 2.0 technology of tags make it easy to take a long, hard look at where our money goes. Data is truth. It calls you on your bullshit. And at its core, that seems to be what the quantified self is ultimately about."For a certain type of person, data is the most important thing you can trust," Wolf has said.Jerry Davidson, with his 50 years of colorful comprehensive diaries would certainly agree.David Pescovitz is co-editor of Boing Boing, research director at Institute for the Future, and editor-at-large of MAKE.
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

If you are totally ready to move on from Donald Trump, you're not alone. According to a report last April from the Wason Center National Survey of 2020 Voters, "President Trump will be the least popular president to run for reelection in the history of polling."

Yes, you read that right, "history of polling."

Keep Reading Show less
via Around the NFL / Twitter

After three years on the sidelines, Colin Kapernick will be working out for multiple NFL teams on Saturday, November 16 at the Atlanta Falcons facility.

The former 49er quarterback who inflamed the culture wars by peacefully protesting against social injustice during the national anthem made the announcement on Twitter Tuesday.

Kaepernick is scheduled for a 15-minute on-field workout and an interview that will be recorded and sent to all 32 teams. The Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Lions are expected to have representatives in attendance.

RELATED: Joe Namath Says Colin Kaepernick And Eric Reid Should Be Playing In The NFL

"We like our quarterback situation right now," Miami head coach, Brian Flores said. "We're going to do our due diligence."

NFL Insider Steve Wyche believes that the workout is the NFL's response to multiple teams inquiring about the 32-year-old quarterback. A league-wide workout would help to mitigate any potential political backlash that any one team may face for making an overture to the controversial figure.

Kapernick is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) so any team could have reached out to him. But it's believed that the interested teams are considering him for next season.

RELATED: Video of an Oakland train employee saving a man's life is so insane, it looks like CGI

Earlier this year, Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid reached a financial settlement with the league in a joint collusion complaint. The players alleged that the league conspired to keep them out after they began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

Before the 2019 season, Kaepernick posted a video of himself working out on twitter to show he was in great physical condition and ready to play.

Kaepnick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC Championship game in 2013.

He has the 23rd-highest career passer rating in NFL history, the second-best interception rate, and the ninth-most rushing yards per game of any quarterback ever. In 2016, his career to a sharp dive and he won only of 11 games as a starter.


In the category of "claims to fame nobody wants," the United States can now add "exporter of white supremacist ideology" to its repertoire. Super.

Russell Travers, acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, made this claim in a briefing at The Washington Institute in Washington, D.C. "For almost two decades, the United States has pointed abroad at countries who are exporters of extreme Islamist ideology," Travers said. "We are now being seen as the exporter of white supremacist ideology. That's a reality with which we are going to have to deal."

Keep Reading Show less

Between Alexa, Siri, and Google, artificial intelligence is quickly changing us and the way we live. We no longer have to get up to turn on the lights or set the thermostat, we can find the fastest route to work with a click, and, most importantly, tag our friends in pictures. But interacting with the world isn't the only thing AI is making easier – now we can use it save the world, too.

Keep Reading Show less
Good News