Quantified Selfers, Imagine a Day When You Won’t Quantify Anything

The Quantified Self movement, which involves tracking everything from exercise to productivity to spiritual well-being, is almost five years old. A book that predicted that this data would be integrated into everyday life and that people would use mobile devices to aggregate it all is almost 10 years old.

Wireless Foresight: Scenarios of the Mobile World in 2015” was published in 2003, a time when most cell phones could do little more than call, send texts or function as a pocket calculator. A time that feels like ages ago, considering that the iPhone wasn’t unveiled until 2007.

That’s why the book’s authors imagine Sara, a businesswoman in the year 2015, carrying out her daily tasks on her PDA, a personal data assistant, rather than a smartphone. In the following excerpt Sara is in Berlin after a business lunch with health startup EmBase. EmBase is about to break into a new mobile market that’s now possible because of sensors that can be planted internally to allow people to monitor their health.

In 2015 it is technically feasible to swallow or inject nanosensors that will function in the human body for months and transmit data about levels of its 50 most important substances. EmBase is developing a PDA software package that will use all this data to assemble a personalized health profile. The innovative part is that EmBase will use the PDA to assemble more information by asking the user directly and by automatic extraction of data on indicators already learned by the PDA agent. This is information such as food intake, physical exercise, sleeping habits, and subjective well-being. Over time the EmBase software will be able to develop a very precise personal profile of the most important body functions. It is then possible to understand the connections between, for example, feeling dizzy and specific physiological indicators.

At the time the book was written, 2015 probably felt like eons away, and in the tech world it pretty much was. We’re almost there with our ability to track and analyze data, but this development is very recent.

“Until a few years ago it would have been pointless to seek self-knowledge through numbers,” Gary Wolf, co-founder of the Quantified Self movement, says in a 2010 New York Times article.

He goes on to say that we didn’t have the devices or the technology to make sense of the data. Now there are wearable sensors that work with applications like the FitBit app that let users track their food, weight and workouts.

As for those internal sensors that take most of the “self” out of self-quantifying  — will they be around by the authors’ prediction year 2015? Sooner? Or ever?

Health 2.0