Movement seeks better living through math

Devotees of “The Quantified Self” seek knowledge by measuring, measuring, measuring.

How many minutes did you spend online yesterday? How many hours did you sleep last night? How much water have you had today, like, in ounces?

Those and other quantifiable answers are at the heart of a movement known as The Quantified Self, knowing yourself better through measurements and numbers.

Gary Wolf is a contributing editor at Wired magazine and co-founder of QuantifiedSelf.com. It's an online hub for people looking to add up their own numbers and figure out what to do with the totals.

Gary Wolf: The range is really immense. It goes from very simple, obvious things, like people tracking steps using pedometers to things that are exploratory - people tracking things like how many times they sneeze or how many times they smile, and everything in between including mood tracking, people tracking health metrics, people tracking athletic performance

Moe: Now, a lot of info gathered and shared online, but not necessarily online only thing - it sounds sort of like a very self-reflective movement operating here. How did this get started?

Wolf: We're aware - I think all of us are aware - that a lot of things are being tracked about us, especially as we do a lot of things with our computers. That knowledge is not necessarily used for us, for our benefit; however, the data about us also has meaning to us. And the quantified self movement is about using that data to answer those questions we care about - how can I be healthier, how can I be happier, how can I realize my intentions, things like that.

Moe:  If you're always measuring aren't you measuring and not living?

Wolf: That could be said about any kind of self-reflection. When you think about what you're doing, it sometimes interferes with your doing it. But I don't think that means we should never think about what we're doing. It's an extension in our repertoire of tools to reflect on ourselves

Moe: So what's the point of this - is it to assess who you are or is it a base line to go out and change and improve who you are?

Wolf: Tracking can be a form of self-awareness or mindfulness. Simply knowing what you're doing is itself a benefit. But, tracking can also be a way to discover things about yourself that you didn't know, and that discovery can lead you to change something about what you're doing or to improve.

**

And Tech Report Theater, I will play the app-based photo sharing service Instagram, recently purchased by Facebook for a billion dollars.

Producer Larissa Anderson will play Facebook Camera, a new photo sharing app from Facebook.

Moe: Derp a derp a doo. I'm Instagram, Facebook loves me, billion dollars. Wha- WHAT? Who are you?

Larissa Anderson: Facebook Camera. Whassup, old timer?

Moe: Old timer? Facebook just bought me. And I'm cool. I let people use filters so an old bicycle on a fence looks artsy.

Anderson: Is that all?

Moe: Kind of. What do you do?

Anderson: Everything you do. And I make it easier to post pictures to Facebook, several at once if you want.

Moe: But why would they buy me for a billion dollars and then make something just like me?

Anderson: I'm sure there's room for both of us. It's a strong company making smart decisions.

Moe: Maybe you're right. Let's look up how Facebook's IPO went.

(pandemonium and panic)

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...