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Quantified Self Meetup: We've been doing it since Ben Franklin (or earlier)

by Melissa Chipman

My own foray into the Quantified Self Movement: Sleep Tracker on my iPhone. A good night for this insomniac.

The Quantified Self Movement is a fancy name for people who combine their interest in health and fitness with all of the tracking technology that has become available in the past couple of years.

But I’m relatively certain that if you could take a TARDIS or Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’s phone booth back in time (phone booths both, I just realized) and visit Ben Franklin, you’d realize that he was a faithful adherent to the Quantified Self Movement too.

From the Louisville Quantified Self Meet-Up page:

It is a regular show and tell for people who are tracking data about their body and conducting their own personal investigations and research into their bodies, minds, and selves. Anything is game — from diet and nutrition, exercise, to personal genetics, to ways to digitize and track information, to how to self-experiment with data and statistics. There is a lot we can learn from one another and this group will get us started.

This past holiday season, health-tracking devices and software were all the rage. Half the people I know wear either FitBits or Fuel Bands to keep track of their exercise. Some of them also employ digital scales and nutrition tracking software to get a broader sense of their overall health.

I have chronic sleep problems, so when I finally broke down and moved to an iPhone, one of the first apps I purchased was Sleep Tracker.

You turn on Sleep Tracker at night, tuck the phone under your pillow, and somehow – through magic and witchcraft, I can only assume – when you wake up in the morning it tells you how you slept.

How much time? How restless? After a month or so of using Sleep Tracker, I realize my worst nights are Sunday and Wednesdays. And I’ve adjusted my behavior accordingly, shuffling myself off to bed a little earlier on those nights.

Ben Franklin’s self-improvement chart from his Autobiography. An early example of the Quantified Self movement. Note he doesn’t say “don’t get drunk” — he merely says don’t drink to “elevation” ie. “don’t get silly drunk.”

And so, in a tiny way, I’m doing Quantified Self the right way – using health data that I’ve collected to modify my habits for better results.

Our Insider Louisville World Headquarters neighbors at Beam Technologies are taking the Quantified Self Movement to oral health. Their toothbrush with an app tells you how well you’ve brushed and what you can do to better care for your teeth and gums.

And next week, Alex Frommeyer and the Beam guys are hosting the Louisville Meet-up for people who are interested in learning more about the Quantified Self movement. The event takes place from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Feb. 6. The line-up of speakers is:

  • Mark Gehring – Asthmapolis and the City
  • Grace Simrall – Sleep = Health
  • Wes Brooks – Lexemed and You
  • Chris Hall – Taking Risks

From the website:

Presentations will start at 6pm. We are interested in products and personal experiences related to self-tracking and self-experimentation, rather than sales pitches. We’re also interested in data visualizations, gadgets and tools that you’ve created to track and make meaning of something about yourself. We try to keep the length of presentations to 5 minutes + 5 minutes for Q&A.

The event will take place at 806 1/2 East Market St. The Beam guys promise pizza and beer… which I think is a little funny for a health-oriented Meet-Up. More details here.

On the other hand, Ben Franklin, our forefather in the Quantified Self, would be wholeheartedly in favor.

Note: Uncle Ben loved himself some beer, but that famous “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” quote? He never said it. He said: “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

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