You may have heard of “The Quantified Self”, also known as self-tracking, body data, life-hacking and a range of other phrases. It’s a movement focused on the acquisition of data about your daily life in order that, by reviewing or visualising that data, you observe patterns and correlations in your behaviour. These patterns theoretically yield insights about the way you live, permitting you to modify your behaviour accordingly.

Life-data typically recorded include exercise, diet, weight, sleep, mood, blood pressure etc but can conceivably extend to include location, productivity, environmental factors (air quality, noise levels), the company you keep, and so on.

If it generates data, that data may be used as an input that can later be reviewed for patterns and correlations.

Typically (but not always), a combination of hardware and software platforms is necessary for participation. Examples of dedicated sensors include the [somewhat failed] Jawbone UP, FitBit Ultra and the range of Nike+ products (including in-shoe sensors and the FuelBand). These devices are usually paired with desktop/smartphone software that syncs sensor data with a remote web service. Some smartphones with sophisticated motion sensors, GPS and accelerometers (ahem, iPhone…) dispense with the need for separate hardware sensors entirely and use the native functionality of the phone.

Like a typical Arch Geek I’ve been experimenting with a range of sensors and services recently. Self-monitoring, as the studies suggested it would, has definitely resulted in behavioural change in the short term. Whether this converts to a longer term way of life remains to be seen.

The “Hawthorne Effect” could well be a factor in this: knowing that I’m the object of study could be the reason my behaviour has changed. The acid test will be when/if the novelty of life-hacking wears off.

That’s a strong possibility. Every QS system/device I’ve tried has relied heavily on the dread buzzword “gamification”. The achievement of small goals is rewarded by buttons and badges and levels and animations and all manner of virtual rewards. I think it’s these micro-achievements that will become old very quickly. (I wrote a piece about the douchebaggery of gamification with my colleague Gareth Fryer recently).

Having said that, I’m reminded of World of Warcraft as I play this Game of Me. If you’ve ever played seriously (up to level 60 minimum) then you might recognise the pattern:

  • minor goal is set (kill 20 boars / jog for 2km)
  • incremental reward achieved (get 5 gold / get your 2k badge)
  • realise you have many more minor goals to accomplish before you [level up / hit physical or behavioural milestone e.g. reach specific weight]
  • gratification is deferred
  • a variety of minor goals worked through (“work” being the operative word)
  • a major goal is achieved (level up / physical or behavioural milestone)
  • repeat
  • cross threshold (first time you buy a mount or enter new zone like Outlands / derive life-changing benefit from life-hacking)
  • repeat

I’m also reminded of the D&D Character Sheet. I know, you thought I couldn’t go geekier than WoW. The steady improvement in levels achieved, points spent on your attributes and the accumulation of new skills and rewards, was one of the primary ongoing thrills of the game. There are clear (but admittedly shallow) parallels with the Quantified Self movement: roleplaying and life-hacking done well permit you to learn about yourself and develop accordingly.

Before I get my cloak and sensor and head off to grind an instance, it’s worth remembering that in any of these “Games of You” the milestones aren’t as important as the time spent between them. As John Lennon put it:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”

Photo Credit: fquevillon via Compfight cc