Quantified Self (QS) refers to the activity of seeking self knowledge through numbers, attaining wisdom through the collection and analysis of quantifiable data about one's daily activities or biomarkers. By tracking various health markers such as; calories consumed, weight, heart rate and physical activity people can plot progress toward certain goals and accelerate toward them after identifying the causal relationships between variables.
Everyone has different goals, to meet these you may want to start tracking your behaviours, consumption patterns and habits, often people start small and don't know what they're doing is quantifying themselves.
In the past, self tracking required meticulous note taking, filling out and piling up journals with handwritten notes, which serve little purpose unless retroactively analysed. Gathering comprehensive and well structured data can shine a light in the darkness, allowing us to gain objective perspective about our true habits and actions which were previously denied and avoided. Seeing reality for the first time can be a moving experience which leads people to seek to improve.
Shannon Conner tracked her weight for the last 40 years to produce this graphp>
Self Reflection Through Numbers
If you were confronted at the end of every year with all the alcohol you'd consumed, all the sugar and the fat you'd eaten in one giant pile, you might think twice about continuing down that path over the next year. QS forces people to be honest with themselves, the numbers are in plain sight, unavoidable and infallible. When exposed for the first time the truth can be confronting.
Modern technology has enabled passive data gathering, providing snapshots of what we are doing at regular points in time, without ever interfering with our daily lives. QS isn't restricted to tracking any particular type of data, (some people even track their poo) but typically people get started because they want to increase their productivity or wellbeing. They start with the most obvious or easiest to track like calories consumed or screen time but often expand out into other variables for more personal reasons. Utilising wearable technology such as the popular Fitbit fitness bands people can easily track multiple metrics 24/7 without ever having to put pen to paper.
The modern technology assisted acquisition of personal data expanded what's possible to track, enabled technical analysis to gain knowledge of the self, and is responsible for the QS movement of today. Many self explorers create their own tools, automating the data gathering process using scripts, computer programs, mobile applications along with using hardware in novel ways. Analysis can be tricky depending on the format of the data, many QSers massage their data to fit into existing software tools for visualisation or create their own personal visual dashboard.
Initially tech savvy self investigators started the QS movement, writing scripts and programs to track one's daily activity and computer use required a certain threshold of technical competence. These days more and more people are tracking at least some aspects of their life without even knowing it. The barrier for entry has been lowered and anyone with a smartphone or wearable fitness tracker can get started, and likely unbeknownst to them, already have.
Start tracking today, choose a few variables that are easy to track, quantify and post your results back. Nothing that can be quantified is off limits, a surprising number of QSers investigate the effects of caffeine. Chances are you've already started, your phone and computer may already be tracking some of your habits already, but getting access to that data isn't always straight forward.
N of 1 and QS in Scientific Literature
Articles and posts made by QSers often contain many elements of scientific research, they outline the methodology used to gather the data, present their data and discuss findings, helping educate others who may wish to perform the same experiments. While rigorous scientific studies generally involve large sample sizes there is a category of experiments called N of 1, studies which only have one participant. The results of these studies need to be taken with a grain of salt as they may not be applicable to the population. But if you're the 1 participant and you identify something that works for you, you've tested and proven it, then what does it matter if the results are replicable.
One day thousands of people who've never met before will be able to follow the same protocol of a QS experiment, accumulating all the individuals data into a new revolution of crowd sourced science.
Personal Story & Introduction
I've been interested in QS for several years and always wondered what things I myself might track but I could never make it a habit. I couldn't seem to stick to logging data consistently, sometimes I needed to drink my morning coffee in order to remember I was tracking my coffee intake. I really wanted to track what I was doing with my time, what I was working on and for how long, however I'm not organised enough to keep a calendar or maintain a strict schedule of work.
For the past year I used existing software to track my computer use but when I wanted access to my data I found I'd have to pay a fee, so like any QSer I decided to track my computer use myself.
This year I setup passive tracking of my computer use to see exactly where my time went, for the most part I already knew what I was wasting time on but I wanted to see the actual numbers. Using a Python script I wrote, which runs at startup, I log every new window that becomes active, effectively documenting what I am looking at onscreen, every second of every day I'm at the computer. I use this script on both my home and work computer and sync the data files with Dropbox. Having now gathered several months worth of data I need to find an effective and efficient way to analyse it, which I hope to share with you in future posts.
While tracking my computer use is just the start of my QS journey it allows passive tracking of a large portion of my time without any effort or awareness on my behalf. There's far more I'd love to track however I need to find ways to automate and quantify these things.
Eventually I would love to track my:
- Coffee / Caffeine consumption
- Sleep quality
- Heart rate
- Heart rate variability
- Blood glucose / Insulin response
- Porn / Jerking off / Sex
- Supplements / Nootropics
Accountability through QS
I hope that in tracking these things I can begin to hold myself accountable, because currently I over indulge in certain areas of my life and quickly forget them to avoid embarrassment. Publicly displaying my QS Data would make me feel more responsible for what I spend my time on. I hope you enjoy my first post, and will return to look at my data and maybe question where your time and resources are being spent. May we all become better versions of ourselves.