With the rise of smartphones and the shrinking cost of new sensors such as the accelerometers embedded in them, human ingenuity has a new playground to explore: you. The human body is a treasure trove of information. Emotions, movement, posture, breathing, you name it--it all produces trackable data.
This new world of innovation cracks open the door to a vast realm of possibilities. It allows individuals to know themselves like never before. Through Self Analytics, people can see the trends that shape their lives, and if built the right way, give them the tools to change their trajectories.
“I'd like to tell you (Self Analytics tools) are for self-knowledge.” Said Gary Wolf at TED at Cannes, “And the self isn't the only thing; it's not even most things. The self is just our operation center, our consciousness, our moral compass. So, if we want to act more effectively in the world, we have to get to know ourselves better.”
A new technology trend called the Quantified Self aims to gather and analyze of this data in order to make possible the digitization of people; essentially the tracking and monitoring of all the numbers that make someone who they are.
Quantified Self is a recent trend where participants measure and record data about themselves. This ranges from common data such as weight, blood pressure, sleep patterns and the like to more uncommon data such as mood, productivity, and so on. For example Stephen Wolfram, the famous computer scientist, has been recording his email activity since 1980 and uses it to monitor and analyze his productivity over days, months, weeks, and years.
The realization that a person can be digitized has excited businesses and science fiction writers alike, and has caused some people to be frightened by the amount of data being collected about them. A new wave of tools are arriving to help people surf anonymously and evade tracking technology, and a slew of privacy laws are in the works in an attempt to protect people that are unaware of how their data is being used and to what extent they are being tracked.
Europe is fighting hard against this new Big Data reality with initiatives such as European Commissioner Viviane Reding's 'Right to be forgotten’. Pushing against the current digital situation she states, “If an individual no longer wants his personal data to be processed or stored by a data controller, and if there is no legitimate reason for keeping it, the data should be removed from their system.” If accepted, the measure would require companies to enable users to completely erase their digital dossiers.
But regardless of this initiative and others like it, the movement towards digitization is well underway--and you may be participating already without knowing it. If you have a smartphone, chances are you are already partially digitized through location tracking on your phone. If you use pandora your musical tastes are fully digitized. New security cameras can not only identify you by your image and gait but even predict physical problems you may have from that information. But this is all just a hint of things to come with the birth of Self Analytics.
Quantified Self vs. Self Analytics
The only thing quantified self can do is gather data and enable savvy users to analyze it themselves; Self Analytics will take all of that data and make it understandable and usable. It will enable users to know what’s happening to them and why.
Analytics is a fast-moving industry and has many different applications--and shifting definitions can often cause confusion. In a previous trend watch and data story, we discussed “People Analytics”, which tracks individuals through their behaviour and is heavily used in human resources. Both People Analytics and Self Analytics focus on data about people -- the difference lies in the end user. Self Analytics seeks to inform a person about themselves while people analytics looks outward at groups of other people. If you download your Facebook dossier in order to better understand your trends and activity, then you are performing Self Analytics. When Facebook looks at the same information in order to better advertise to you they are engaging in People Analytics.
An example of Self Analytics is the analysis Stephen Wolfram did on his decades of email usage. By analysing the data he collected he was able to see macro trends in his life, such as a decline in the day-to-day operations of his business in the early 1990’s while he holed himself up to focus on science and research.
Wolfram’s analysis of incoming and outgoing emails
Self Analytics is just beginning to be explored. As it grows and is more publicized we expect it to significantly impact the medical field first and possibly be one of the tools that solves the current crisis. When people can monitor their own health, recognize abnormalities, and respond to changes quickly, then preventative medicine has moved from the doctors office to the patient's home. Prices will drop and awareness will rise as Self Analytics becomes mainstream.