It’s my data and I’ll visualise if I want to

9 Apr

The alarm bell rings just as you emerge from the sleep cycle, the perfect time to wake up. You rise and an icon on your phone gently reminds you to take your multi-vitamins. Every step you take on the walk to your train is logged and instantly merges with your cardiovascular score, which tells you that breakfast would be better with some protein. Welcome to the future. Or actually, the near present. 

Jawbone (Jawbone.com)

Personal data mining, personal analytics, or the more science-fiction-y term ‘self-hacking’ is not new. Nike+ pioneered it on a scale and seamlessness unseen before. And for centuries, thinkers have kept personal diaries to keep track of their lives. But with technological innovations, smartphones and the possibilities of the cloud, personal analytics is going to a whole new level. The buzz around Steven Wolfram’s recent Wired post about his 20-year obsession with his own data just goes to show how much it captures the blogosphere’s (or maybe just the geeks’) imagination.

It’s still early days. Many of the existing platforms are only devoted to a particular pocket of your life, like running (RunKeeper) or sleep (Zeo Coach). Jawbone UP, the most mainstream personal data tool, converges data from different aspects of daily activity – it was launched with much excitement, but was pulled in December because the technology didn’t quite live up to the promise.

But that’s starting to change. The growing ‘self-hacker’ movement passionately believe that ownership over personal data is empowering, allowing better choices and ultimately a life that is more aware, healthier and as a result even happier.

Tictrac, is one of the most sophisticated platforms yet. It gathers everything – blood pressure, what you ate for breakfast, how far you ran, what you weigh, how long you slept –  under one dashboard. You can cross-reference, aggregate, and even visualise a complete picture of your life, so it is easy to transform into action. Those weight gains coinciding with work trips during the Winter? Next time you’ll know to bring your running gear.

Is it the dawn of a new age of healthcare, where preventative and personalised is finally a reality? Or are these platforms an extension of our self-obsessed control-driven capitalist culture, destined only to fuel even more neuroses and disorders? We think self-hacking is a good thing. We see a future where medicine is holistic and forward thinking. In a way it  feels closer to nature, because these data visualisations are reflections of what our bodies try to tell us but we miss or ignore.

Whatever you think, what’s currently out there is almost certainly skimming the surface of what will be. The evolution of data mining is inevitable. How long it will take to become mainstream, how the web of privacy unfolds and how responsible we will be are measures which, for now, we have no data on at all.

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