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The Quantified Self at PSFK Salon on Happiness

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Slides from PSFK's Salon on Happiness about the Quantified Self movement and the people involved. Who they are. Why they track and experiment on themselves. Tools and methods they use. And how this …

Slides from PSFK's Salon on Happiness about the Quantified Self movement and the people involved. Who they are. Why they track and experiment on themselves. Tools and methods they use. And how this all leads to potential happy endings.


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  • Good morning. Thank you Ryan and Piers for inviting me. A quick introduction. I am a designer and have been designing and making things for the last 20 years: a furniture designer, set designer, 3D animator, and interaction designer. But for the last 10 years I’ve become really passionate about designing products and services that improve people’s health and helps us live healthier, more productive lives. / I also run a group in NY called The Quantified Self which is a collection of geeks, hackers, the curious and the tireless self-improvers who use all kinds of methods including spreadsheets, web tools, mobile apps, devices, cameras and spiral-bound notebooks -- to collect and track all kinds of stuff about themselves. Including sleep, work, finances, diet, location, weight, sex, attention, mood and so on. / I’m going to talk about who these self-trackers are. (and I'm one of them) and why we track and experiment on ourselves? But first...\n
  • I’d like to take us back in time to the 18th century and tell you about a project Ben Franklin created. / Ben designed a self-tracking technique for the sole purpose of acquiring habits that would reflect 13 virtues he wanted to live by. It was an experiment he described as "a bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection"\n
  • Here are the 13 virtues he came up with. And so he designed a little book to keep records of his behaviors and how they aligned or didn’t align with these virtues. \n
  • The book contained 13 pages. Each of the 13 pages was arranged in columns, each letter for a day of the week, and down the left column he placed the first letter of each of the 13 virtues. His goal was to focus strict attention on one virtue each week. And each day he would place a mark in a box where his behavior didn't align with that virtue. / Here, in week 1, his focus was on Temperance and you can see he does a pretty good job of aligning his behavior with that virtue. And these marks indicate where his behavior did not align with that virtue on that day. / He writes in his autobiography that he used these techniques to train good habits and break bad ones. But, in the end, he gave up trying to be perfect and concluded that "a speckled ax was best" which translated means something like morally perfect people are ridiculous and annoying.\n
  • Ben's experiment is a a reminder that we've been tracking our behavior, in one form or another, probably forever. We've always been curious why we do the things we do and often times we don't even know why we do them. / But most of our efforts, to date, have been through the use of language where we investigate our inner worlds through talking and writing. UNTIL NOW...\n
  • The self-trackers of today, however, seek an alternative path by using numbers to interrogate their inner worlds.\n
  • Maybe the goal is to try and understand something so we track our diet & mood and conclude: “I eat less when I'm happy."\n
  • Or maybe we’re trying to solve a problem. We track our mood and exercise: "I'm seeing if exercise helps my mood."\n
  • Or we’re trying to get from here to there by tracking our heart rate and miles run to say: “I finished my first marathon!" / A lot of the self-tracking that I and others do is episodic where there's a focus on some event or experiment where we benefit from quantifying ourselves to help steer us toward a potential happy ending or outcome. \n
  • The Quantified Self is an expression that Kevin Kelly, author and founding editor of Wired Magazine, and Gary Wolf, current writer for Wired, created when they launched a website and blog in 2007 to report on this emerging phenomenon of self-trackers and experimenters. And in 2008, Kevin and Gary launched monthly Show&Tells in the Bay Area where they invited people to come and share their stories of discovery with one another. I was working in the Bay Area at the time and showed up and within a few months Kevin, Gary and I decided to launch a 2nd group in NY in the Spring of '09.\n
  • Here is a snapshot of some of the presenters at Quantified Self Meetups around the world. We now have groups in a dozen cities from San Francisco to New York to London to Sydney. We get all kinds of folks who come and present at our Show&Tells: the curious, the gadget lovers, risk takers, problem solvers, and the self-improvers. / I think there's probably a whole bunch of people who are pretty darned happy with themselves just the way they are. They probably wouldn't be the kind to show up at a Quantified Self meetup. / Self-trackers come and present on their personal projects including...\n
  • Talks on location tracking. This is a heat map of my Foursquare check-ins over time.\n
  • Talks and experiments that rely on daily mood tracking. This is a mood chart using a tool from MedHelp’s website.\n
  • Talks that focus on fitness and exercise where they rely on pedometers, heart rate monitors, cycling power meters and some of the new devices on the market like the Fitbit which measures your activity level using an accelerometer.\n
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  • Other talks using location tracking converted to running pace and distance by using iPhone apps like RunKeeper.\n
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  • A bunch of presentations on food, nutrition and weight loss. Here’s a favorite body weight scale among self-trackers. The Withings scale not only records your weight over wi-fi but will tweet it as well. \n
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  • We get a whole bunch of talks on people trying to improve their quality of sleep. They use sleep devices like the Zeo that measure electric signals produced by the brain to help track how you are sleeping.\n
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  • And there are literally thousands of websites devoted to tracking specific stuff like finances, productivity, consumption, food and, in this example, sexual activity. A site where you can keep track of your sexual encounters. This isn’t my Dashboard but Kevin’s, he’s the founder of Bedpost.\n
  • And there are sites people use, like Daytum.com, where you can track whatever you want and then visualize in as you wish. This is NYC dog named CharleyLhasa, who seems to be keeping track of his medications and the breeds he’s met.\n
  • We get more experimental talks at our meetups as well. Here is a self-tracker who was interested in the pure aesthetics of her data. For one week, designer Mimi Chun, tracked the color of everything she ate. \n
  • And then visualized it in these color charts. Here’s a close-up of Monday and Tuesday.\n
  • Some of the geeker & hacker self-tracking solutions are coming out of schools like Carnegie Mellon, MIT and NYU’s ITP. Here’s a student from NYU, Mustafa Bagdatli, a system he built to detect sleep patterns and behavior to understand how your bed sees you while you sleep.\n
  • In May of this year, Gary Wolf, who started Quantified Self, wrote the cover story in the NY Time Magazine. And he identified 4 factors that are influencing the increase of self-tracking behavior. / \n1. Electronic sensors that can detect all kinds of activity have gotten smaller and better. \n2. People have started carrying around little PCs with them in the form of mobile phones\n3. Social media has made it seem normal to share everything\n4. The rise of cloud computing\n
  • So, what question about yourself are you trying to answer? There are lots of people doing all kinds of self-experiments that involve tracking to solve a problem, be happier, be more engaged and feel more alive. / Each of us is different. Try stuff out. And figure out what works for you. / Quantifying yourself is one path that may lead to a happy ending.\n\n
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  • Transcript

    • 1. Happy Endings The Quantified Self STEVEN DEAN @sgdean
    • 2. 13 Virtues 1. Temperance 2. Silence 3. Order 4. Resolution 5. Frugality 6. Industry 7. Sincerity 8. Justice 9. Moderation10. Cleanliness11. Tranquility12. Chastity13. Humility
    • 3. “I eat less when I’m happy.” Tracking diet + mood
    • 4. “I’m seeing if exercise helps my mood.” Tracking mood + exercise
    • 5. “I finished my first marathon.”Tracking heart rate + miles run
    • 6. The Quantified Self
    • 7. Why now?• Sensors• Phones• Sharing• Cloud
    • 8. What question aboutyourself are you trying to answer?
    • 9. Thank you. @sgdean