In Praise of Self-Tracking: The Data-Driven Life

It is a natural desire to strive for self-improvement and seek knowledge about oneself, but until recently it has been difficult or impossible to do so objectively and quantitatively.

Now, through self-tracking systems and applications that are becoming prevalent in many of our lives thanks to a number of technological advances and sociological changes, we can, at last, find the answers to questions that were once beyond us.

That is the essence of Gary Wolf’s comprehensive study of the self-tracking phenomenon, looking at how we are heading toward ‘the quantified self’ and a ‘data-driven life’… and what this means.

When the familiar pen-and-paper methods of self-analysis are enhanced by sensors that monitor our behavior automatically, the process of self-tracking becomes both more alluring and more meaningful. Automated sensors do more than give us facts; they also remind us that our ordinary behavior contains obscure quantitative signals that can be used to inform our behavior, once we learn to read them. […]

The goal isn’t to figure out something about human beings generally but to discover something about yourself. Their validity may be narrow, but it is beautifully relevant. Generally, when we try to change, we simply thrash about: we improvise, guess, forget our results or change the conditions without even noticing the results. Errors are possible in self-tracking and self-experiment, of course. It is easy to mistake a transient effect for a permanent one, or miss some hidden factor that is influencing your data and confounding your conclusions. But once you start gathering data, recording the dates, toggling the conditions back and forth while keeping careful records of the outcome, you gain a tremendous advantage over the normal human practice of making no valid effort whatsoever.

via @vaughanbell