On Saturday I headed over the Hub Westminster for the London Quantified Self group's Self-hacking day event. I don't really do any Quantified Self stuff, except for using Momento to pull all my disparate outbursts into one place which kind of counts as life-streaming I guess. The day sounded like it was going to tackle some subjects that were broader than just Quantified Self, and so it was of interest to me to see what I could learn as I continue to work on my storyline project. And it was a most interesting day. The first half of the day was talks on pre-determined subjects, the second was an open-spaces/unconference style. Both were enjoyable, and I got a lot out of them both.
What follows are my highlights/Interesting links/thoughts/takeaways from the talks:
Self-hacking & Data literacy - Adriana Lukas
Adriana spoke about how the concept of personal data had changed over time. It used to be the data recorded about you so that you could be identified, but how this has now changed to also include data that is a byproduct of something else, the data trail left as you buy a train ticket, or a book via an online bookstore. Also, obviously given the context of the day, self-collected data - from sleep patterns, to food intake, to detailed medical recordings.
What I quite liked about Adriana's talk, was the idea about conscious vs unconscious data - the data I consciously commit to a service, as opposed to the data trail I leave behind as I flit from service to service, and how valuable this can be.
A fascinating session, lots of things I didn't know or hadn't really thought about within the context of personal data. Like, the fact that the Metropolitan Police have invested in kit that can get all the data off a mobile phone. In 15 minutes. Even if you are just detained. And then released. The policy was reported to be to keep the data for ever. Therefore if you are collecting personal data, the police can have access to it.
The key takeaway for me was this:
when you start collecting data, think about what you're going to do with it, and secure it. Data is for life, not just for Christmas
And also that when building a data collection system of any sort, always have one of the first tasks as the ability for the user to get their data back out.
Data visualisation - John Fass
A nice session exploring the different paths towards visualising data - explaining different methodologies via small video segments. Some nice thoughts about scaleability of data - making a visualisation work in the context of seconds, and years takes some thinking about, about using sequences for time in some circumstances - comic books have been doing this for years. Above all be creative.
Data Analysis - Ian Clements
This was fascinating, and engaging. Ian has been capturing some elements of his medical data since the 1970s, but in 2006, following a diagnosis of terminal bladder cancer he started recording as many elements of data as he could, so that he could cross-reference them all to determine his level of cancerousness. His stakes are high. This isn't some intellectual challenge. This is about him trying to work out the best way for him to reduce his cancerousness, and get more life. This means that investing a lot of time up front to learn a new stats package, or a specific methodology isn't really an option. He needs to learn as he goes. I asked a question about what the medical professionals thought of this. I expected him to say they were supportive and interested. He said they were at best indifferent and at worst hostile. Some had refused to treat him.
Big picture trends - Ken Snyder
As always with big picture trends there is a large element of guesswork, and there were some disagreements amongst the audience - I guess a lot of big picture sessions would result in this. There were some interesting thoughts about sensors, about having multi-sensor devices, or devices that can share data - at the moment a lot of these devices have their own data stores and formats and it's down to the quantifier to pull things together (Ian, in the previous session, had said quite a lot of his data is transcribed from notebooks for instance). The MyBasis watch was given as an example of something starting to do this, as it tracks sleep, heart rate and calories being burnt. Another comment which provoked thought, by me at least, was about data ownership - people do care about their data, but simplicity is important too. How do you give people a choice without it being really complicated?
After a break for lunch we moved on to the Open Spaces sessions. I wanted, perhaps unsurprisingly to anyone who has spoken to me in the last few months, to have a discussion about Archiving. John Fass wanted to have a discussion about Adaptive data representation, User experiences, Human behaviour and Physical computing and as we walked towards the break-out rooms we were already talking to each other about all manner of things under both of these topics, so we combined groups and had a wide-reaching discussion which resulted in more questions than answers. More about the things discussed here.
After the Open-Spaces sessions we met back up for a session closedown, with people from each of the talks/groups discussing key points, takeaways, questions and in some cases follow up actions before Adriana wrapped up the day.
An excellent day, with some really interesting people and conversations had, and a really nice, supportive atmosphere surrounding it all. It felt to me as if people were sharing concerns, experiences and thoughts in order to learn and adapt rather than trying to show off. Maybe that's what you get when you concentrate on self-hacking - people interested in behaviour modification and therefore in a mindset to learn.