This is a blog post I wrote for my FastCompany.com column almost exactly a year ago. More and more people are talking about the Quantified Self movement or Personal Analytics, but the subject is still not mainstream – at least, not yet.
I recently attended my first meet-up of the Quantified Self Movement. Quantifiers are people who measure themselves in various ways–how long they sleep, how much they exercise and even how they feel. They use all manner of devices from Zeos and FitBits to homemade contraptions.
After an hour of networking, everyone settled in to hear planned presentations. There were six presenters signed up and they were each given eight minutes to communicate what they were up to; in this case, to 150 people.
The first presentation was on Attention–basically how to measure when you’re paying attention and when you’re not, in the field (e.g., when not in front of a computer). I stopped paying attention mid-way through. I was distracted by a guy in the audience editing a power point on eyebrow symmetry. The presentations do span the gamut.
Another presentation was by a husband and wife team on the subject of why people quantify. The wife shared that her husband was such an avid quantifier that she joined him and as a result now has a record of her menses for ten years.
But what is the purpose behind knowing when Aunt Flo came to visit ten years running? This was the heart of their presentation and from my point of view, the heart of the matter.
Many measure aspects of their lives to establish a baseline for themselves, e.g., a health baseline so they understand when they are deviating from it or something has gone awry. Others enjoy the autobiographical results. But it seems most measure themselves in some aspect because they want to change–lose weight, gain muscle, or even get a girlfriend.
This was exactly the goal of a young single man who presented on how he applied self-quantification to his dating life. He explained his process of trying to quantify the attributes of his many dates.
After his presentation, the group asked questions. And to my surprise and delight, one man challenged the presenter’s scientific rigor in his self-quantification. These quantifiers don’t mess around.
Another woman asked how much he was quantifying himself on his dates. Which I suspect, if he did, might lead to more meaningful insights. Anybody can call a date witty or dumb, but it’s harder to see yourself and figure out which you’re being.
While it can all seem like a lot of navel gazing or even narcissism, the evening and the many discussions that emerged demonstrated that self-quantification is more than just the numbers. It leads to greater understanding, and if understanding yourself better can help to change the world, then count me in.