The Quantified Self May Have Matured


For several years, data visionaries have been predicting that the last great frontier of data was to be found on our bodies, but with the exception of the occasional fitness band or food diary app, the quantified self has been mostly a fantasy. But this year’s CES shows the quantified self may have finally reached an early level of maturity and with a new, consumer-friendlier name -- the digital lifestyle.

The term "digital lifestyle" fits a more Jetsons-like futurist ideal than "quantified life," which sounds an awful lot like living your life counting Weight Watchers points. But they basically mean the same thing: incorporating sensors, apps, and connected machines into our daily lives. That means for digital lifestyle, you can include both the fitness band and something like the Nest thermostat, which technically doesn’t count as quantified life. But for the sake of old-timers like myself, let’s look only at products that used to fall under the quantified self.

Quantified-self products are going from simple fitness monitors to full-blown health products. My favorite is the Parrot Zik Sport. It is a simple set of noise-cancelling headphones that can also monitor a person’s heart rate, distance run, and most interestingly, running style. With the help of an app, it can actually teach you to be a better runner. This is the key to the next generation of quantified-self products, which will offer a small, but important difference by not merely counting what you do, but helping you do it better.

Another way to improve the usefulness and sales of quantified-self products is added features. Here is a simple smart pedal for a bicycle. It can track how much you peddled and how far you traveled. It is equipped with GPS, and it does all the things you’d expect an exercise device to do. It also allows you to track your bicycle when it is stolen. Integrating security into the app makes it go from just another fitness device to a must-have for any serious cyclist with a serious bike.

Up until now, this was all we could expect from a smart cycle:

Perhaps the most interesting device at CES takes the quantified self into the realm of serious healthcare. The Quell is a portable device that claims to be able to end chronic pain through “non-invasive neurostimulation technology.” It is portable. You can wear it while active or sleeping to reduce chronic pain from diseases such as diabetes or sciatica. The machine also tracks your use of the device and your pain levels. In addition to stopping pain, the use of the device to track it could help your doctor intervene and better manage your disease.

One of my silliest but most profound introductions was a simple sensor by Kiqplan. It shows the future of quantified self might be putting your own sensors on objects (they suggest the cookie jar). The formerly “dumb” device becomes a connected smart device. Open your cookie jar and now it says something like, “Are you sure you want a cookie?” Granted, I’d be more likely to smash the sensor and eat the cookie. But if you’re into this, it is the best way to create a quantified life customized to your own needs. At the very least, the app will count how many times you opened the cookie jar this month. More creative uses may lead to DIY solutions to many problems.

It is these DIY solutions that are most likely going to send quantified self or digital lifestyles into the stratosphere. Each time someone hacks one of these products it will become a new product we all can share. This year at CES, we’re seeing the first generation of really useful products in this vein. Quantified self and the digital lifestyle are finally here and I couldn’t be happier. What do you think? Do any of these products intrigue you? Do you want any of them? Does the idea of the quantified life frighten you? Comment below.

David Wagner, Community Editor

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years. He has been Community Editor at InformationWeek.com and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. At E2, he covered leadership, Big Data, and mobility. He also led the community building efforts. Before E2, he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, leadership, and innovation. He has also been a freelance writer for many top consulting firms and academics in the business and technology sectors. Born in Silver Spring, Md., he grew up doodling on the back of used punch cards from the data center his father ran for over 25 years. In his spare time, he loses golf balls (and occasionally puts one in a hole), posts too often on Facebook, and teaches his two kids to take the zombie apocalypse just a little too seriously.

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Re: Human machines
  • 1/19/2015 10:40:15 PM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT, I am not brushing them off. Not only is this dependence a problem for people on a personal level (eg, a disaffecttion from the world around them). It's also a social issue. Go for a ride on any freeway in your local town, and dare to look into the cars you pass. How many drivers are watching their devices instead of the road ahead? That's but one example.

 

Re: Human machines
  • 1/19/2015 8:09:35 AM
NO RATINGS

I don't blame the device, I'm pointing out the dependence on the devices.  I recently ran across a product to help curb the addiction, it's nothing more than a rubber iPhone shaped block that is the same dimensions and weight as an iPhone so that people don't feel like it is missing.  What I'm saying is that we need to be aware of dependencies that are created and not just brush them off.

Re: Human machines
  • 1/17/2015 11:35:33 PM
NO RATINGS

SaneIT, you can't blame the devices for the way kids behave. Like you said, if it wasn't their phone or tablet, it would be something else. Then again, it's the teacher's perogative to create a device free zone. And in a way, even if these kids tremble and sweat that whole class, they deserve it and are better for it, whether they're conscious of it or not.

Re: Human machines
  • 1/16/2015 8:24:22 AM
NO RATINGS

That might work but keep in mind that students are carrying to class every day and spending a good portion of their time outside class with the devices.  My kids have friends who for lack of a better word are addicted to the screen.  In those cases I'm not sure that they'll adjust to not having it for an hour a week is going to help them adjust it will just make that hour an anxiety filled mess.  The anxiety of a quiz plus not having their crutch would be hard for some of them to take.   I'm not in any way blaming technology for this issue, people will always have things that they feel attached to for the upcoming generations it just happens to be mobile devices.

Re: Human machines
  • 1/15/2015 11:42:04 PM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT, I would think that you could break students of that anxiety. Say, a teacher has a quiz every week for an entire semester, during which students have to leave their phones at his desk. Bu the end of the semester, you would think that anxiety level would drop when the students didn't have their phones. Similarly, take a break from work emails and social media for a day. By day two, it's a little less stressful. By day three, even less so.

Re: Human machines
  • 1/14/2015 8:17:01 AM
NO RATINGS

I was not aware that they had public quiet zones like that.  I set quiet times for myself and people who contact me frequently know what those quiet times are.  The study I read about is detailed here http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150111195734.htm . People had trouble focusing on a test if their phone was taken away from them.  The phone really had nothing to do with taking the test but the anxiety of not having their phone resulted in lower scores.  I wonder if we run into the same types of issues with students who go into quiet zones in schools or have to turn in devices before taking tests.

Re: Human machines
  • 1/13/2015 10:04:10 AM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT. I think anyone who works in a digital world goes through some degree of withdrawal when forced into radio-free environments. I got a taste of it yesterday while traveling when my wireless adapter went funky. OK, my stress level went up, but it wasn't the end of the world.

Here's an experiment someone could try:

There are "quiet" cars on Amtrak. There are cell-free buses, restaurants, and other locations. When people opt for this quiet, cell-free zones or services, why do they do it? Do they want to be isolated from the digital world? Do they want to be distant from the sometimes moronic chatter of a one-sided cell conversation? Do they just want to concentrate on their own online, but silent digital life? 

Re: Human machines
  • 1/12/2015 8:11:04 AM
NO RATINGS

I saw an article recently about people moving to a town in West Virginia because it is a radio dead zone.  While the numbers are small and the reason for moving seems to be a sensitivity to radio waves (not sure how that works) but I have moments when I wish I had a technology free zone or a mandatory mobile technology quiet time. I just heard about a study that shows people actually suffer from withdrawal symptoms when separated from their mobile device.  I don't see a push toward the quantified self making that any better.

Re: Human machines
  • 1/9/2015 9:04:47 AM
NO RATINGS

Good point about individuality and relying on devices. Some years ago I had neighbors who frequently just wouldn't answer their home phone. Why? Because they didn't feel it was worth interrupting what they were doing at the time or who they were talking to. It drove me nuts. Now I understand why they did it, and I envy people who hit "reject call" when their cell goes off.

Re: Human machines
  • 1/9/2015 9:01:14 AM
NO RATINGS

I'm talking about my smart phone when I say GPS.  Who uses a stand-alone GPS anymore?


Guilty, but I use it in the woods where the maps on phones aren't all that useful.

One thing I taught my kids when they were learning to drive was to always have a mental image of an aerial view of where they are in relation to some standard (and big) landmark, so they know which way is north/south and which way is east/west. Being near the Atlantic that's always been fairly reliable. The same applies to a large lake or mountain range. You might get lost in a confusing neighborhood, but when it comes to driving up and down Route 95, for example, north and what lies over the horizon usually is a pretty safe bet.

 And, even the math-challenged like me can do the 25% of 400. What's 27% of 400? (um, where's my phone?)

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