The Quantified Self

By going on my phone, I can go to the ‘Apple Health’ app and find out how far I walked today, how many steps I climbed, BMI, how long I slept for and how well, my heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature, just to list a few. Smartphones alone can track a lot of information and portray this in a way that the everyday person can understand in real time. Then we have further access to wearable sensor technology that connects to smartphones such as the Fitbit or Nike Plus that can further analyse our bodies. Is this intense tracking, recording and analysing helping us to become healthier humans? Or is it turning us into obsessive critiques of our body’s facts and figures?

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The ‘Quantified Self movement is where people collect extensive data about their own bodies’ (Nafus, D et al. 2014) via wearable tech sensors. Advocates of such technology describe our bodies as “radiating data” and believe this data needs to be quantified to “expand human potential” (Constantini L, 2014). The data analysed on these tracking systems allow one to make very basic changes to their lifestyle if they choose, as a result of viewing such figures regularly. We can track the health of our bodies before ‘we hear bad news from our doctors'(Wolf G, 2010). This tech is becoming so advanced, that ‘soon sensors tracking our vital data, like cholesterol and glucose’ (Tudela, G 2016) levels will be available.

The technology can be used to “find a better version of ourselves” (Constantini L, 2014). The type of data you can view on your smartphone is actionable, is motivational and is helping to improve the work life balance. An individual can set goals, track, monitor and record their body over a period of time, without seeking the advice of a health or medical professional. We could view this technology as an extension of ourselves.

However what if we become too obsessed over such figures at our fingertips? Avid user of the technology, Alexandra Carmichael explained that eventually she became so ‘addicted to the tracking apps, that she began beating herself up over skipping a day of running’. Numbers are good for a lot of things. They help to “govern, advertise, manage, search, reflect and improve” (Wolf G, 2010). However critiques are concerned about quantifying our lifestyle and bodies. “Tech is changing the sense of self” (Wolf G, 2010). Whilst we may be able to learn more about our bodies, could we go too far? Do we really need to know that we woke up 10 times during the night without knowing? This tracking is going ‘beyond the standard body measurements such as our weight on the bathroom scales’ (Wolf G, 2010) and as a result, we may begin to measure ourselves against our peers.

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It is amazing to think where such technology could take us in the next few years. Gonzalo Tudela explained how doctors could potentially access the health data collated from the wearable sensors, and contact and alert people when they see something wrong with their bodies. Katina Michael, an academic from UOW, explains in her research how an extreme abuse of the technology could lead to negative results. For example, insurance companies could base their eligibility decisions off the data. So if they see you aren’t exercising or eating well, they could reject your insurance claim. In December 2015, Qantas released statements explaining that they were ‘looking at joining up with health insurer NIB to offer frequent flyer points in relation to a persons Fitbit or Apple watch activity’ (Freed, J. 2015). Could such monitoring help to decrease the ‘at risk customers’ (Liew, R & Binsted, T. 2015) of insurance companies?

This technology could be a way to expand our “humanness” (Constantini L, 2014). I agree with the critiques in that over-quantifying the self can create anxiety that did not previously exist. The alerts, benchmarking, and goals may change the way we perceive our bodies. I do not think I need my phone telling me that I didn’t exercise today, that I am most fertile on this day, that I ate too much, that I didn’t sleep well last night, that I have high blood pressure, it can even tell me when I am most stressed during the day. I like to think I can figure this out on my own. But hey, someone may find these reminders really beneficial to help structure and improve their lifestyle.

I think it is fantastic that we do not need advanced medical equipment and computers to find out about our most basic health information. I also agree that the wearable sensors are a fantastic way to monitor ones exercise patterns and make improvements without having to pay for a personal trainer. With access to such data, individuals can make changes to their own to their lifestyle at their own discretion and pace. Like any piece of tech, if used in the right way, it can change things for the better. Let me know what you think of the quantified self movement by commenting below.

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References:

“Big Data And The Dangers Of Over-Quantifying Oneself”. Katina Michael. 31, May 2013. YouTube. N.p., 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

Carmichael, A. April 2010. “Why I Stopped Tracking – Quantified Self”. Quantified Self. N.p., 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Freed, J. 2015. “Qantas frequent flyer points on offer for staying active”, November 23, 2015. Retrieved from <http://www.smh.com.au/business/aviation/qantas-frequent-flyer-points-on-offer-for-staying-active-20151122-gl591j.html&gt;

Liew R & Binsted T. 2015 “Your insurer wants to know everything about you”, December 5, 2015. Retrieved from <http://www.smh.com.au/business/retail/your-insurer-wants-to-know-everything-about-you-20151201-gld5t1.html&gt;

NAFUS, Dawn; SHERMAN, Jamie. Big Data, Big Questions| This One Does Not Go Up To 11: The Quantified Self Movement as an Alternative Big Data Practice. International Journal of Communication, [S.l.], v. 8, p. 11, jun. 2014. ISSN 1932-8036. Available at: <http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/2170>. Date accessed: 14 Mar. 2016.

Ted Talks, 2010, “Wearable Tech Expands Human Potential | Lauren Constantini | Tedxmilehigh”. YouTube. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

Ted Talks, 2016. “How Wearable Technology Will Change Our Lives | Gonzalo Tudela | Tedxsfu”. YouTube. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

Wolf, Gary. June 2010. “The Quantified Self”. Ted.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

Images:

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<http://www.harveynorman.com.au/connected-fitness-health/fitness-tracking-devices/fitbit-fitness-trackers-pedometers>

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Author: abbeycubit

I am a 22 year old, currently based in Sydney, Australia. I am working in a Media Agency and am a recent University graduate. I have a love for travel, sweet potato and books. I hope you enjoy my blog xx

2 thoughts on “The Quantified Self”

  1. Dear Abbey, An interesting article but the subject could be worrying unless one avoids the possibility of obsession. Personally I would like to know more details if I am feeling below par – or even sick – and perhaps refer to all these wonderful apps etc. – Otherwise there is no
    need to check – accept perhaps every 3 months or so at most. I would consider that only a general check-up and then forget about it until the next 3 months. So that would mean only checking one’s general health 4 times a year. And then relax and enjoy life. The human body has a wonderful mechanism to heal itself if we give it a chance.
    Love your posts…..valli

    1. I agree, I think the apps have the potential for you to take control of your health and visualise your progress with live data. However, I would not want to get so attached that I became obsessed!Thanks for reading.

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