We think and talk a lot about helping people achieve health and financial security. As with anything, there are many ways to approach the health side of the equation. For some, this means adopting the “Quantified Self” approach – using personal tracking devices to measure health and activity, and using the insights gained to change their behavior. A number of us on the ConnectedHealth Team have started using some sort of tracking device (FitBits, Jawbone UP bands, and even cell phone apps), with some interesting revelations and results that we’ll share in an upcoming post or two.
But, before we get into that, we wanted to set the stage and provide a bit more background on the Quantified Self (QS) movement and its potential to help people achieve better health. To help us do that, we invited Mark Moschel and Eugene Granovsky to give us their perspective on this growing field and their predictions for its success. Mark and Eugene are Chicago’s QS Meetup organizers; they currently head up a site called AskMeEvery, which lets users indicate what behaviors or activities they are interested in tracking, and sends them daily email or text message reminders to help them stay accountable to their goals. It’s an interesting implementation of the QS approach.
1. What role does behavior change theory play among the Quantified Self movement?
Quantified Self and habit development are closely intertwined because, as the saying goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. QS tools provide the unbiased perspective of an individual’s behavior, allowing each person (or whomever is watching) to understand key variables to behavior change success.
2. What will the QS world look like in 5-10 years? Specifically, what will be the major differences from today?
We think there are two important trends that will shape the future of Quantified Self. First is a staggering amount of automation. Anything you can dream up – from instantaneous blood glucose levels with just a patch to how you spend exactly every second of your day – will be tracked automatically.
Where that data goes, though, is yet to be determined, and is the second important trend to watch. Major companies will become involved in our personal lives like never before. Target is already doing this to some degree, but each and every consumer-related company will have strong interests here.
3. What do you think are the most important ways QS can impact someone’s health? And how “sticky” are the results going to be?
Right now, health is poorly understood on an individual basis. Two 28-year-old men who are 5’10” tall and 170 lbs could have vastly different physical issues. Yet today, they are often treated as one and the same. With more personalized data (captured automatically and streamed in real-time), each individual will have his/her own data set, providing more accurate and earlier diagnoses.
Regarding stickiness, we think QS devices can impact consumer health through awareness and accountability. Expanding on the BJ Fogg behavioral model above, self-tracking (especially when automated) can provide timely and relevant triggers. For example, the Jawbone Up has a setting where it’ll vibrate if you sit for too long. Soon, these types of triggers will be highly personalized and based on more pertinent health indicators such as food intake. However, if you want to keep sitting (or eat a bag of Skittles), no QS app is going to stop you…yet.
4. Who’s going to influence QS adoption most?
Quantified Self today is still mostly a grass-roots movement, run by the curious individuals that started tracking personal data as the tools became available. As a result, it is fixing small but important pieces of health care from the bottom up (as opposed to health-care reform, which is how we’ve “fixed” our health historically).
However, if we follow most other industries that started from scratch, the real influencers will be large corporations that can capitalize on the new opportunities. With QS, this is likely to be within health care, which is why there is such a large land grab for each and every type of measurement – think of all the devices tracking your daily steps today. With large corporations, though, data privacy becomes a bigger issue than it’s ever been. Think of the control Microsoft and Apple have had in how we use computers, or Google and Facebook have had with the web. At scale, they drive how we use the tools much more than consumer choice. For QS companies, I think the sensitive aspect will be the personal data and who controls its sharing – the company or the individual. But unlike pure technology platforms such as computers and the web, we personally believe people will take personal health data very seriously (unlike, say, your search history).
Our thanks to Eugene and Mark for sharing their insights and predictions about this evolving field. It’s clear that there are a couple of key challenges – including adoption of the QS tools, and more importantly, effective use of the data to truly effect change. It’s something we’ll continue exploring, always with an eye toward how we can promote successful QS strategies to achieve health.