Quantified self.... on your marks, get set... measure!


Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz goes my Jawbone Up as it wakes me at the optimal time between sleep cycles. It’s been monitoring my sleep, distinguishing between restful and light sleep allowing it to wake me at the perfect moment so i can get up bright and alert. 

I tap my Up once and it moves into awake mode, beginning to measure my every movement. I step over to my Withings scales and weigh myself. It feeds bmi data straight into my Up app on my iPhone. I grab some breakfast and log the food straight into the MyFitnessPal app. On the bus to the office, i log my mood, it’s pretty good today! 

This is a glimse into the future. Whilst i enjoy the added gadgetary i don’t think this is quite ready for the mainstream, but it is painfully close. A few cycles of Moore’s law and we will have devices which require less effort and give us more.

Picture the scene, you’re about to sit down to a double-whopper on the M4, you glance down to your phone and you receive a notification that your blood sugar level is a touch high and consuming 1000 calories of Burger King goodness will most-certainly be a lifetime on the hips.  Plus, your three quantification team-mates have all been to the gym today and are have been eating healthily. You don’t want to loose second place to fat-tony do you? 

As the sensors improve (bsl, heart beat and cns sensors are on the way) wristbands such as the Up will become more and more common. It’s going to lead to a slew of innovation in healthcare. Perhaps GP’s will monitor obese patients or those with under-eating disorders to make sure they are eating properly. Perhaps I will be able to keep a track of my mum’s movements and general activity levels from the other side of the world. I have to confess to finding this all extremely exciting and I believe it will allow those who use the technology properly to lead a more healthy, productive life. 

As with all measurement, obsession and abuse are likely in a minority. People recovering from food disorders often have to learn to eat ‘normally’. With a mountain of data on hand, surely some people will become even more obsessive to the point of neurosis. However, i do believe that a scary proportion (read most) people actually don’t understand the fundamentals of food groups and portion control. If we can (dare i say it) gamify diet, exercise and nutrition for the masses (current Up users don’t count as the masses), then I think we have a real chance of improving public health. As much as the Wii Fit board was supposed to do this, most are used as glorified foot rests. The impact was net zero. 

There is a question around data. Who actually owns the data of you? The insurance company would love to have it i’m sure, (as would your GP, employer etc) but how will we control and grant access to this pot of actuarial gold? Having used several of these services to date, one thing remains clear; the central platform has yet to appear. Each service seems to integrate with each other. MyFitnessPal can integrate with my WiThings scales, but Up can integrate with both. Whether we realise it or not, there is a battle in progress for the “dashboard of self”, the central place we go to for a snapshot of everything “us”. I would argue that the service that wins the day will not be a measurement service itself for the simple reason that i want to be free from any single device. It will be a dedicated service to manager collection, monitoring, storage and access. Imagine 'Google Self'.

I predict there will be a few dashboard-of-self startups over the next 12 years. 

Now if only my memoto camera would arrive.....