Nivedit Majumdar Nivedit Majumdar

Ramifications of the Quantified Self Movement

Patrons of the Quantified Self movement will definitely vouch for the effectiveness of the whole concept of self tracking for self betterment. After all, numbers are used to govern and reach better conclusions, so why not apply the concept of numbers, data and information to improve thyself, right?

However, it does pay to see things from a different perspective. We’ve already spoken about the importance of balance and boundaries within the whole area of Lifelogging, and in this article, I take a broader look at why the Quantified Self movement might be deemed as ineffective by some people. I also present some possible solutions to the doubts and queries of such individuals, and showcase the Quantified Self movement from the perspective of a non-lifelogging individual.

QUANTIFIED WHAT?

I’ll be very, very honest here. A couple of years back, when I first came across the Quantified Self movement, I did not buy the idea immediately. I considered the movement to simply be an impetus for the sale of wearable tracking devices, and not much usability coming out from it all.

In fact, the first lifelogging applications I tried out were mainly some goal recording applications such as Todoist and Lift, and while they seemed interesting initially, I lost the urge to keep recording my data after some time.

Of course, that’s all in the past now, and today is a different story for me. Nonetheless, it pays to see some of the most pressing issues that the Quantified Self movement can and might face in the near future. I’ll be dividing up the sections as ‘R’s and ‘S’s : R for Ramification, and S for Solution.

R: NO FUTURE POTENTIAL FOR DATA USAGE

Once I began tracking, this thought did cross my mind at some intervals – what is the use of keeping track of all this data, if I am stepping forward and improving myself? And after a few researches on this matter, I can come to the conclusion that I’m not the only one with this frame of thought in mind.

From the eyes of a third party, the Quantified Self movement can appear to be a mad rush to record all the data regarding a particular person. Spreadsheets, graphs and data table are the meat of the matter in this regard, and the more organised they are, the more effective they (apparently) are.

So, what is the need of collecting all the data, when you yourself aren’t sure of how/when/why to use it?

S: CHANNEL THE DATA!

Some things have got to be clear in this context: your goals, in particular. You can define short term or long term goals for yourself, and see which type of tracking data would be most beneficial for you.

The goals can be as simple as reducing your weight, to being more active, to even improving your sleep patterns. All these goals can be accomplished through common tracking equipment, and the data that is generated is mainly a pathway to show how close you are to achieving your goals; an ETA to Goal Achievement, if you will.

Understandably, for newbies to the QS movement, this won’t be easy. Therefore, like all newbies in all spheres, you need a coach who can understand the data and channel the data for self betterment. Only then, will the data be actually effective!

R: YOU STOP LIVING

A common qualm for first time Lifeloggers. There is a popular (mis)conception that the more data you record, the more prone you are to be addicted to the whole concept of achieving your goal. The data recorded makes the lifelogger obsess over his/her self to a very extreme. And this self obsession – often bordering on narcissism – undoubtedly prevents the lifelogger from actually living and enjoying things as and when they occur in life.

Again, honest confession here, this thought has crossed my mind as well. Reading up on people such as Chris Dancy or Nicholas Felton gives you the impression that these individuals somehow alter their lifestyles consciously, in order to improve the scores of their readings.

While that is supposed to be the underlying concept of Quantified Self, it does bring about the question: doesn’t this make the data artificial? Isn’t it like cheating on a test, just so that you can get better grades?

S: MAINTAIN BALANCE AND BOUNDARIES

The solution to the above problem can be realised in the form of a simple fundamental: maintain balances and boundaries within your self tracking habits.

How can that be done? Well, for starters, make sure that the data is being recorded while you are at your natural state. The thumb rule to keep in mind is that the data recorded is to improve a specific aspect, and the improvement in lifestyle should follow the data recording, it should not be influenced by it.

A habit I incorporated into my daily routines was to view the data collected from my smart band at the end of the day. What this meant, was that I could run, work and eat normally through the day, and see the results in the night. If something was amiss, I would try and improve upon that aspect the next day.

This was again reflected in my smartphone addiction habits. Most people are unknowingly addicted to their mobile devices, and this recurring problem has been the inspiration for the development of Instant.


Funnily, Nicholas Felton uses a similar fundamental in his recordings too. He views the data collected at the end of each year, to ensure that the data generated and recorded is completely natural.

R: TOO MUCH DATA SPOILS THE LIFELOGGER

The amount of data at the Lifelogger’s disposal is massive. And yet, do people without tracking equipment do badly?

This was a query asked to me by a few fitness enthusiasts. And it does get you thinking, doesn’t it? If one was truly motivated to achieve the goals, the data would merely be unnecessary bits and pieces of information with little relevance to what you are doing. The ultimate goal would be the end result, and the data collected would be insignificant when compared to the bigger picture.

S: IMPROVEMENT, STEP BY STEP

The Quantified Self movement is designed to inculcate a more comprehensive, informative and calibrated approach to achieving goals. It’s supposed to enable the Lifelogger to achieve the goals, yes. But the modus is slightly different.

Think of a racecar, and the goal as a Grand Prix. When you race in a non calibrated manner, pushing the car to its limits to achieve the goals, you might have a chance of achieving them, but there are chances of failure. The chances of failure are reduced when you go over each aspect of the racecar, work on the weaker aspects, bring about strategies to improve upon them and then push the car to its limits.

TO CONCLUDE

The Quantified Self isn’t an alternative method to achieving goals, it is a supplement to all possible methods that already exist. Numbers never lie, and through QS, the power of data is instantly added to the concept of self tracking for self betterment, and the process of achieving the goals just becomes easier!

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  • fwade

    I believe there is another possibility. To use your analogy of Formula One racing, one of the great uses of data is not only for post-race analysis, but also in order to make real-time decisions. The same applies to the Quantified Self movement: it can be used to notify the individual that an immediate change of some kind should be made.
    For example, in the past I used a heart-rate monitor for triathlon training. It gave a decent idea of how much energy I was exerting in a given workout as it would beep whenever I went under or over a range of pre-set heart rates. With that information, I could make an adjustment.
    Furthermore, we can do much more than simply measure the impact of biological measurements. We can also interrupt ourselves using psychological data.
    To return to the example of Formula One, a team may decide to set a certain range of average speed per lap during its practice run. If the driver strays from that range he may receive a notification that he needs to change his speed in order to meet the goal.
    A pre-set average speed is an example of a psychological goal – it measures adherence to the team’s commitment.
    In the life of an individual, moving from one appointment to another at the right time offers another opportunity to use pre-set scheduled targets to interrupt one’s choices in the moment.
    This is by no means a new concept, but it’s definitely a ramification of the Quantified Self. Unfortunately, most of our devices (e.g. smartphones) are overrun with meaningless notifications so we don’t pay attention to them. Repurposing them en masse to serve our needs is part of what I call the Notified Self. @thenotifiedself