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Brief History of the Quantified Self Movement

People who use technology such as apps to keep track everything from air quality to their heart rate are often referred to as “Quantified Selfers” …or QSers for short. The information gathered by QSers is usually used to help them improve their health and/or well-being through the use of data. This makes the Quantified Self Movement not only beneficial in the behavior change community, but also for every individual who wants a better quality of life.

How Did the Movement Begin?

The Quantified Self Movement began in 2007 by Wired Magazine editors Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly. It’s purpose was to promote an interest in self-tracking amongst users and developers. Mr. Wolf and Mr. Kelly now help maintain and moderate the Quantified Self website.

What is the Quantified Self Movement?

You may not have heard of the term ‘Quantified Self Movement’ as it goes by other aliases in the media such as ‘auto-analytics’, ‘self-tracking’, ‘life-logging’, and ‘life-hacking’. The movement uses many methodologies to achieve its goals.

The major methodologies are:

  • data collection
  • visualization
  • cross-referencing
  • discovery of correlations

(These are just the primary methods used based on the most widely utilized platforms of data-collection.)

Sharing Information

QSers are quick to share information about the tools they’ve used to life-log, as well as any tips they’ve gleaned and information about personal projects. Information is shared through various forums and blogs online as well as conferences where users can meet face-to-face.

The face-to-face meetings are called “Quantified Self Show and Tell Meetings”. These meetings are held all over the world, but the first ones began in the San Francisco Bay Area (of which I’ve attended many). The Quantified Self Conferences are working meetings for tool makers and users interested in the Quantified Self Movement.

Methods of Data Collection

Recent advancements in mobile technology has made it a lot easier to store, record, and track data. Most Quantified Selfers use handheld devices such as mobile phones or tablets to self-track. The data is normally stored in downloadable software or an app’s database (often in the cloud).

Currently some popular programs for self-tracking are:

  • Nike+ FuelBand
  • Fitbit
  • Body Media FIT
  • WakeMate
  • Zeo
  • Withings Body Scale

There are hundreds of devices and apps now used for a variety of different tracking purposes. Some of these innovations record activity data, some take biometric measurements… the innovation around what can be recorded is quickly expanding. The advances in recording and sharing health data on mobile devices has made mHealth extremely popular. As a zealot of this space I’m going to try and keep an updated list of wellness innovation related to tracking here.

Weight as a Success Measure

In the health and fitness world we are bombarded with the word weight. Popular diet schemes have “weigh-ins” and mainstream media dramatizes the importance of weight as a success measure far too often. For instance, the network show The Biggest Loser spectacularly showcases people getting on a giant scale to announce to the world how much weight their participants have lost.

Weight as a Success Measure

The truth is that weight is only one of many measures you can use to gauge the success of a particular fitness regimen. Some people’s unhealthy obsession with weight loss influences them to worry about their scale weight so much that they will let themselves get dehydrated, lose valuable muscle, or in extreme cases fall victim to a life-threatening eating disorder. If your goal is weight loss, then weighing yourself all the time could actually deter you if you are swayed by days where internal fluid recalibration makes you believe you have had a setback.

Some fitness experts recommend only weighing yourself once a week. I’m actually a proponent of weighing yourself everyday because it is part of a daily routine that reminds me of my fitness goals, but that is because I have the self-disciple to not overreact if I see a five pound jump from one day to the next (and science backs up my methodology). These type of fluctuations are common, especially with dieters.

There are a number of other good data measures in addition to scale weight you can use to track your progress including body measurements (with a tape measure), body fat percentage, as well as fitness, flexibility and strength testing. In short, the scale is a valuable tool but there is no need to become a slave to daily weigh-ins.