Back on September 15th-16th I had the pleasure of attending the third-ever Quantified Self Conference at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. It was an amazing event, packed full of great show-and-tell talks, break-out sessions, and product demos.
With so many overlapping talks taking place, my only regret was not being able to catch every presentation. I came away from the event inspired, a little bit tired, but managed to put together some of my highlights and observations:
1. Chances are that someone is currently tracking anything that could possibly be measured. Even the growth of toenails.
“So, what do you track?” was the most commonly heard ice breaker over the 2 days. I met people who were tracking everything from sleep to sex to nutrition to to time to mood to blood sugar. Tracking caffeine and/or alcohol consumption seem to be the most popular types of experiments to conduct, especially those new to self-tracking.
2. I have terrible posture.
It was funny watching the entire audience (including myself) sit up straight during Charles Wang’s talk on tracking his biomechanics positions throughout the day. He’s the founder of a company called Lumo that is releasing a posture sensor that pairs with a mobile app (it gives you a gentle buzz if you start slouching!). I had a chance to check out the LumoBack device during their office hours, and that evening I pre-ordered one (I will post a review once I get it!).
3. Willpower is NOT an unlimited resource.
“You have to exercise,” he said, for instance. “Or at some point you’ll just break down.” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
(photo credit: etherealdawn)
4. “Have you ever figured how information-rich your stool is?”
The future of QS is in analyzing yourself on a microbe level. The DNA in our cells only represents 1% of all DNA that exists within our bodies. Microbes possess the other 99%. Thus, we are only scratching the surface with regards to understanding what is happening inside our bodies.
Larry Smarr, director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, gave a fascinating talk (which included the quote above) on how after years of mis-diagnoses from doctors (who kept telling him everything was fine since he showed no symptoms and felt fine otherwise), he used self-tracking to identify the cause of his chronic inflammation (Crohn’s disease). He would freeze his stool and send in samples to measure his levels of C-reactive protein (elevated levels are an indicator of inflammation). He has even created a 3-D simulation and model of his colon!
5. There are a lot of folks trying to bring order to all of this collected data.
Many people are collecting literally thousands of data points every minute, and there are a number of commercial and open-source initiatives underway to aggregate and display this data in actionable ways such as TicTrac, Fluxstream/BodyTrack, and MyMee.
6. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a fascinating subject.
One of the areas I am most interested in is quantifying, correlating, and reducing stress. Ronda Collier from SweetWater Health (they make an HRV app called SweetBeat HRV) gave a great talk on the subject:
Heart rate variability (HRV) is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats. It is measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat interval.
In other words, having an extremely steady heartbeat is a bad thing. Low HRV is an indicator of stress, depression, lack of willpower, and inflammation. Talk about a mind/body connection! Athletes can use low HRV as an indication of overtraining and when to take a day off. Daily slow, deep breathing exercises can increase vagal nerve tone, and bring your nervous, cardiovascular, hormonal, and immune systems into a state of “coherence” (working harmoniously) – the more time spent in coherence, the healthier and happier we are.
7. Data privacy versus openness is a huge area debate.
Chris Hogg talked about the concept of a public data commons for QS data, where people can ‘donate’ their data. The logic is that there is more value in aggregating this data than having a bunch of individual data streams.
The biggest challenge/debate is the concept of identify versus anonymity, and finding a balance between surveillance and personalization.
8. The QS movement will never reach mass-adoption unless it can be done in a frictionless, fully passive way.
Paul Abramson spoke about his experience integrating self-tracking into medical care, and the benefits of taking a bottom-up versus top-down approach to fixing healthcare.
9. QS’ers seem to love their Vibram Finger shoes.
Seriously. I’ve never seen so many people wearing them in one place. I understand their benefits, but I’ll admit they still weird me out a bit 🙂
(photo credit: etherealdawn)
10. I am not alone.
While many of my friends, family, and co-workers think my obsession with self-tracking and personal analytics is somewhat “weird”, it was refreshing (and reassuring) to be among hundreds of other people that share a similar interest in and passion for the subject. Quantified Self is truly a global movement!
The truth is, there were so many other great talk, panels, and product demos that I couldn’t possibly do them justice in a single blog post. Fortunately, a lot of other people have provided great recaps you can check out here.
(photo credit: rajivzume)
If you considered attending the conference but couldn’t make it, I highly recommend you go to the next one. And if you can’t wait until next year, join a Quantified Self Meetup group in your area!