Quantified Self Movement

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quantified self movement personal analytics n of one single subject study self experimentation personal informaticsIf you are not familiar with the Quantified Self movement but after reading this blog will seriously think about starting your own self-tracking project, I would encourage you to check out also official Quantified Self web site.  It contains tons of useful links and information. If, on the other hand, you are already an experienced (in any degree) self-tracker or life logger, I hope my blog will become another useful source that you will be turning to regularly for advise and inspiring examples.

If you ask members of Quantified Self movement, why are they tracking themselves, you will get different responses. Some are experimenting with different treatments to address chronic health issues. Others track their progress while introducing changes in their lifestyle or form new habits. The hardcore fitness enthusiasts and dieters often use logs as they advance towards their goals (like losing weight, gaining muscles or training for a marathon). Self-tracking methods could be also used to improve performance at work, acquire new skills, manage resources more efficiently, save money, and for many other reasons.

I personally believe that most of the objectives for self-tracking and self-measurement, can be placed under one of three general categories: discovery, accountability, and optimization. This is how I would define each of these categories.

The discovery projects are often conducted out of pure curiosity, and their main goal is to provide descriptive statistics about certain things or events in your life. One, for example, may track consumption of alcohol throughout the year, or record number of steps taken every day. Life loggers often take it even further by adding unstructured data, such as photos, videos, screenshots of websites that you read, tweets and Facebook posts, location “check-ins”, etc. The final product of such projects is often a data visualization or video presentation, and most of the inferences based on collected data are limited to distribution graphs, and simple differences in metrics (e.g., seasonal differences in amount of beer consumed, or mood variations across days of the week). Nicholas Felton and Gordon Bell (http://vimeo.com/14282561) are especially famous for such reports.

The accountability projects, on the other hand, are concerned with tracking the progress or accomplishing a certain short-term or relatively long-term goal. One, for example, may measure weight and body fat percentage on a weekly basis, or number of foreign language words learned every day. The final outcome of such projects is usually a trend line showing a progress over time, or a tally being compared to established earlier benchmarks. Such projects are especially popular among fitness enthusiasts or dieters.

Finally, the optimization projects aim at improving life conditions, physical or mental performance, etc. Their focus is on finding solution to a certain problem through self-observation and self-experimentation. One could, for example, experiment with different diets in order to mitigate the allergy effects, or different breathing exercises to improve quality of sleep. The final outcome of such projects, as one hopes, would be a discovery of an effective treatment or some useful pattern that could be utilized to solve the problem.

Most of the projects covered in this blog will be focusing on accountability and optimization. Furthermore, I am not a fan of “count everything that you can and see what happens” projects, and often find them meaningless and somewhat distasteful. Of course, this is just my personal opinon, and it may not necessarily reflect opinions of other self-trackers and life loggers.

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