What is the quantified self?

Friday, April 21, 2017 by Rhonda Locke

Have you heard the term “the quantified self”?

It’s a phrase used to describe the movement of incorporating technology to acquire data on a variety of factors that make up a person’s daily life including diet, mood and performance. We’ve become almost obsessed with tracking and analysing a variety of factors in our lives and allocating a name to this obsession has made it far more legitimate. 

The quantified self can also be referred to as lifelogging, self-tracking, or body hacking.

Quantified self

The key to the quantified self is not only to record data across a multitude of actions, but then to also present that data in a way that is can be used to improve health and safety.

The quantified-self movement is making tracks not only personally, as we are more conscious about finding ways to improve health and combat a somewhat sedentary lifestyle, but also in a corporate setting.

Companies are not only wishing to be seen as technologically literate; they also want to be seen as the type of business that values sourcing data to improve their employees’ health and safety.


Wearable technology

The practice of using wearable technology to collect one’s own data might seem like a more recent feat, but the concept of wearable technology can actually date back to the 1960s when the hearing aid went digital.

Wearable technology is based on the premise that a variety of digital or electrical devices are worn close to or on one’s body, monitoring a range of factors. The most popular factor that you have likely come across is health and fitness. In Optalert’s case, our wearable technology is our drowsiness detection glasses.

Video technology

Over time, as technology has improved, we have determined ways in which we can still monitor someone in the same way and gather data, but through technology that does not require physical hardware.

An example of this is Optalert’s own technology which we can now integrate into a car’s dashboard, removing the need for physical hardware worn on one’s body.

Read more about the integration of our technology here.


What is measured in the quantified self?

Exercise and movement are the most common types of data we are familiar with, but the scope goes beyond that, tapping into health and science. A few examples should help illustrate what is measured through the quantified self.

Aging population

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a global movement that’s focussed on improving personal health and fitness. This is possibly in part due to our aging population influenced by our increasing life expectancy.

39 countries now have average life expectancies of 80 years and above. The country with the highest average life expectancy is Monaco (89.52 years).

Japan follows in position two (84.74 years) while Australia is 13th (82.15 years).

Being able to self-asses in terms of health, diet and sleep is increasingly important to our ageing population. We are working longer and life expectancy is on the rise. As such, we rely on advanced technology to help us make smarter and better health decisions, particularly as we age.

Digital and wearable solutions

Whether it’s social media influencers who encourage you to attend tonight’s gym session or a desk job that’s resulting in frequent lower back pain, we’re more conscious of the hours spent idol and the need to increase the time we spend hitting the pavement or the gym.

You’re probably familiar with Fitbit, Jawbone and the Apple Watch, three of the most popular health and fitness devices. These examples of wearable technology are worn on the wrist and measure and track a variety of daily movements.

These fitness devices can measure:

  • Steps taken in a day
  • Distance covered on foot
  • Elevation and/or flights of stairs climbed

  • Data is collected and throughout the day is sent back to a cloud-based platform that allows for interpretation and analysis.

    Diet, health and even your ancestry!

      Jawbone is just one example of exercise trackers that have also evolved into helping users better manage healthy eating, too.

      The device is packed with features to help create an accurate food diary from which actionable advice is provided, helping you to make improved food choices.

      Other examples of apps designed to help you better understand your health include:

      23andMe – a DNA data analysis service that helps users explore their DNA, Neanderthal percentage, and maternal and paternal lineages.
    • WellnessFX – an app that brings blood test results direct to your laptop. An online dashboard replaces the doctor’s office for receiving results and data.
    • UBiome – this works similarly to WellnessFX. It takes all your data and puts it into its dashboard accessible from a variety of devices. UBiome measures gut health and identifies pathogens that make you feel unwell.

    Sleep and drowsiness

    Just like we’ve taken an interest in evaluating and therefore improving our exercise levels, people are also learning more about the importance of good quality and adequate sleep.

    Along the same vein of individuals seeking to improve health, having a more accurate reading of how much sleep we get, and how much of it is inadequate, can help identify patterns (e.g. restless sleep during the week and irregular sleep patterns on the weekends).

    From this information, we can proactively work towards improving our sleep hygiene. As a result of improving sleep, we are more responsive, more alert and more attentive in our personal and professional lives.  

    One of the world’s most popular sleep apps is Sleep Genius. The app monitors a variety of behaviours overnight and helps you reset your sleep-wake cycle.


    What can we do with the data?

    Unfortunately a great deal of data collected just sits there in the cloud universe because people either don’t know how make the most of it, or lose interest once they’ve had the device for a few weeks, but there are a range of ways to use the data to positively influence your health. 

    Exercise

    Each day, people check in with their devices to see whether they’re getting the recommended 10,000 steps a day. From a personal point of view, they might see over time that their step count plummets during the workweek, but rises when the weekend arrives.

    Upon interpreting this data, they might decide to make a permanent change that includes them leaving their desk for lunch, taking a 10-minute walk around the block during their break and locking in three gym sessions per week.

    Diet

    As touched on above, tools that monitor calorie intake can help users make smarter choices in the future. You can set targets and periodically check to make sure you’re hitting those targets.

    Sleep and drowsiness

    A lack of sleep doesn’t just result in feeling irritated or sleepy during the next day. It can have deeper consequences, and with Optalert’s technology and the JDS 10-point scale we can accurately gather and interpret data.

    This data leads us to determine the likeliness of related illnesses whose symptoms include poor quality sleep over a prolonged period of time. Long-term effects of sleep deprivation may include:

  • Heart disease
  • Alzheimer's
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression

  • Read more in this blog post.

    Immediate effects of sleep deprivation, including just one night of poor sleep can lead to:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Distractions
  • Impaired reaction times
  • Irritability

    Short-term effects like the ones listed above can stem from poor quality and/or inadequate rest. More information on these short-term effects can be found in this blog post

    • Using this data for self-improvement

      Using these devices to measure a range of factors are all ingrained in the same principle: knowing more about yourself allows you to make changes and better decisions that improve your health and safety.

      The information these devices gather is only good if you can do something about it; whether that’s improving your fitness, changing your diet, or making changes that improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. If the latter feels impossible, we advise you to get professional help to improve sleep hygiene or seek help to diagnose a potential sleeping condition. 

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