I went to the Nesta: Hot Topics event "Hack Yourself" this morning to listen to some interesting perspectives on the topic of using data to understand yourself better.
First up was Adrianna Lukas, organiser of the London Quantified Self Meetup Group. She described the group as mainly comprised of "people solving their own problems" through experimentation with data gathering and analysis. The main problem she felt need to be overcome was the "lack of mental models and infrastructure to deal with personal data". Whenever someone uses the term 'mental model', I tend to get excited as it suggests exactly the kind of research I love doing although I think that 'conceptual model' if probably more accurate in the context of what she was saying.
Another interesting issue she raised was that of "data literacy", used in this case to refer not only to a person's ability to use and understand data but also knowing the importance of owning and protecting one's data.
This point that was also made in a slightly different way by Kiel Gilleade, the next speaker and a Research Fellow in Physiological Computing at Liverpool John Moore's University. For him, the policies around the potential reuse and transformation (de-contextualisation) of this kind of data are more important than the infrastructure required to support experimentation. He had an interesting anecdote from the time he spent running the Bodyblogger project where he was hooked up to the Internet 24/7 via a heart monitor. After becoming familiar with the heatmap visualisations of his heart rate to show when he was working hard, his boss at the University misinterpreted subsequent data suggesting a lower heartrate as an indication that he was slacking off and being less productive.
According to Kiel, the Bodyblogger project was indicative of the "new application paradigms" that emerge from the web integration of brain and body signals. Until there is more widespread adoption of this kind of monitoring of physiological data, I think that this may be alittle premature as who knows what form it may eventually take?
The final speaker, Jon Cousins, was an example of someone who has given form to one specific area of his life, that of his mental health. Jon was diagnosed with Cyclothemia, a form of bipolar disorder after many years of hiding his moodswings behind a successful career in advertising and near fatal inattention from his GP when he first asked for help. As part of his treatment, he was asked to keep a diary of his moods and being a creative sort, he ended up inventing a card-based system for accurately recording how he felt during the day. The end result was Moodscope, an online tool for tracking your mood and sharing it with others. What was especially interesting about this was his observation, that in his own case, his average mood score went up as soon as he started making it public. The "unexpected power of a buddy" and the sense of sharing with others resulted in a positive feedback loop that helped to improve his condition over time.
All in all, this was yet another stimulating debate organised by Nesta. A hat tip has to go to Louise Marsden, who once again listened attentively and steered the conversation in interesting directions. If you can be bothered to get up early enough (8:30 is too near dawn for a lot of people I know) it's well worth popping along to one of these events.