Quantified Self

Understanding the quantified self

What is the quantified self?

The concept of the quantified self relates to how people make quantifiable records of themselves in a wide range of activities and emotional reactions. Instead of making a qualitative judgement of oneself, this concept relies on scoring and recording data. So, if you were to judge yourself as feeling healthy and alive after a run or a swim, then this would be a qualitative judgement. However, if you had quantifiable data to back this up, such as counting the number of steps you took or your average heart rate as well as data relating to your release of serotonin, for instance, then this would count as forming part of the quantified self. Since technology has become increasingly miniaturised and able to communicate its data via the internet, the concept of the quantified self has grown in popularity.

 When did the concept of the quantified self begin?

Although you might think that the quantified self only started to emerge with the development of smart handheld technology, this is not the case. In recent years, these sorts of portable technologies have only led to the growth of the concept. In fact, wearable quantimetric, self-tracking tech has been around since the 1970s. After all, keeping track of the life signs of divers and astronauts led to the development of such technology around this time. Since then, the concept has become more and more widespread with many apps that you can download for free that will provide metrics relating to your mental well-being, physical activity and all-round health.

What methodologies are used for the quantified self?

In many cases, wearable tech takes measurements as you go about your daily life by obtaining readings at regular intervals. Pulse rate monitors fall into this category, for example. Some use movement data to record your activities, such as pedometers. Others will need a manual form of input to tell them what you are doing, such as jogging or cycling, and then use GPS data to work out how far you have gone and how quickly to estimate a calorie burn, for instance.

Are there critics of the quantified self?

Some people object to the invasion of privacy that certain quantified self gadgets inevitably allow for. Where your position and health is quantified, it will inevitably build up a picture of you. Although this might be benign in your own hands, such data is often shared. Some people worry data sets are not sufficiently well anonymised, which means health insurance firms, for instance, might benefit from obtaining them.

Can the concept of the quantified self lead to good health outcomes?

Yes, on the whole, people who wear quantified self devices tend to find them enabling and encouraging. By measuring their own performance, so they are more likely to push themselves next time. As eHealth tools, however, they tend to focus on particular activities rather than wider health and well-being goals.

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