Monica Hesse of the Washington Post has one of the most interesting and enjoyable reads of the year, Bytes of Life. Its on the subject of Lifetracking. Unlike Lifestreaming, its not sharing information, but data. Using services to collect and capture data about the otherwise mundane, share it, compare it and make sense of it. Just go read it, or enjoy the excerpts below until you do.
So what is Lifetracking about?
It's not about tracking what you do, they say. It's about learning who you are.
And how does it help me with enlightenment?
These ideas are the types of heady possibilities that will be discussed by the members of a new group in San Francisco called Quantified Self. Members plan to meet monthly to share with one another the tools and sites they've found helpful on their individual paths to self-digitization. Topics include, according to the group invite: behavior monitoring, location tracking, digitizing body info and non-invasive probes.
"Don't you think it's kind of obvious that if you step on a scale, there should be something that sends the information to your computer?" asks Gary Wolf, a contributing editor at Wired magazine and one of Quantified Self's co-founders. "Isn't it ridiculous to think that blood pressure shouldn't be measured at least once a day, if not several times a day?"
Wolf is a tracker whose particular interest is the secret workings of his own body.
You listen to his questions -- posed energetically and frequently interrupted by excited laughter -- and you think No, Gary, no!
For what possible reason would otherwise sane people dedicate brainpower and man-hours to charting experiences at which they themselves were already present?
"I was always a terrible self-journaler," says Messina. "Every once in a while I'd write in a journal, but it was always a major, momentous event. 'Got to college.' 'Broke up with girlfriend.' You lose a lot of the nuance that caused that situation to come about."
Tracking can "zoom out over my entire life," he says. It could, for example, help him better understand the aforementioned breakup. "When you've self-documented the course of an entire relationship, trivia that doesn't seem like much could, over time," help him understand exactly what went wrong, and when.
But I'm blogging a bunch, doesn't that count?
Self-tracking, on the other hand, is partly about the recording, but also as much about the analysis that goes on after the recording.
Sounds like work, and maybe more group therapy than I'm ready for. Thank goodness this isn't for everybody...
"For a certain type of person," says Wolf, the Quantified Self founder, "data is the most important thing you can trust. Certain people think a feeling of inner certainty is misleading."
Let's sprinkle some science on it...
Computers don't lie.
This part's actually good science:
"We all have the tendency to see our behaviors in a little bit of a halo," says Jayne Gackenbach, who researches the psychology of the Internet at Grant MacEwan College in Alberta, Canada. It's why dieters underestimate their food intake, why smokers say they go through fewer cigarettes than they do. "If people can get at some objective criteria, it would be wonderfully informative." That's the brilliance, she says, of new technology.
Perspective, and the cost of it is decreasing rapidly so long as you are willing to share. And we know where the trendline of sharing is going. While the article I've just bastardized ends by warning against Personalized Taylorism, and I'm itching to comment about how this relates to the enterprise, let me make it personal.
If someone makes an iPhone app that enables one-button lifetracking of whenever I have a smoke, I will transcend my Pavlovian overlords and quit with my fellow man. I even have a name for it, iQuit.