A little coterie of Brighton folks wandered up to the Self-hacking day in London, run by some of the Quantified Self crowd. I've not been to the monthly London meet-ups, but have been following this kind of thing for a few years now, on a no doubt hackneyed path that started with Nike+ and took in Mappiness, 23andme, and recently Runkeeper.

The morning saw a few talks:

  • Alec Muffet and Eric King of Privacy International, talking about security concerns. In particular, the terrifying-sounding kit the Metropolitan Police have acquired to take copies of data from mobile phones (and the outdated laws which allow them to do it), broken assumptions in our attitudes to security regarding devices we physically control, privacy policies and the need to think more carefully about any data one records being published;
  • John Fass on data visualisation principles, calling for visualisation to be considered from the start and not tacked onto the end of QS products. John gave a good talk I failed to completely follow (and will try to watch again); but I liked his idea that the rise of info graphics reflects a panic about the quantity of data we're faced with;
  • Ian Clements told the by turns inspirational and horrifying story of his diagnosis with terminal cancer, when he was given a few weeks to live… 5 years ago. Ian's been gathering data on himself since 1974, and has a stronger imperative than many QS folk. I was horrified both at the attitude of medical professionals (who aren't interested in his data, or in one case will take it but on condition they don't reveal their findings to him), and that there's software out there he'd like to use for analysis of his multivariate logs, but just can't afford.
  • Ken Snyder gave an overview of a few trends: convergence of the wellness, healthcare and social Internet industries; multi-sensor devices, medical devices become more consumer-oriented, rise of smartphones, and wearables; and consumer trends around simplicity, more mainstream use of QS (shifting the focus away from power users, where it is today), getting the isolation out of self empowerment, and data ownership.

Then after lunch, a couple of break-out sessions followed. For the first one, I took part in a group talking about behaviour change: where, after all, is the value in all this measurement if it can't be used to effect improvements? We rambled through BJ Fogg, talked about the need to consider closely which habits to create, what "kicks" would contribute to setting them up, and what environmental clues might be used to trigger "kicks"; the role of social support and accountability (touching briefly on buddy systems - tiny 2-person social networks, and something I don't think we've seen enough of, digitally); and models of willpower as a muscle which can be exercised, vs being a depletable resource. Personality styles also emerged as important - how would a service adapt to usage by loss averse individuals, vs gain/reward types? And is the act of recording data itself useful - or would a completely automated system which required no participation from its user miss an important trick? Finally, someone brought up Nicorette as a good metaphor: a system which encourages good habits, and is then designed to fall aside in time, leaving the good habits in place. You don't see many digital QS services which encourage you to leave after a while…

The second session I found a bit less focused: we talked about archiving of data and wobbled between the value of deliberately constrained networks (which I'm sceptical over), Wi-fi vs LTE, and lack of nuance in privacy policy (we permission to organisations to use our data, but rarely constrain what they can do with it beyond sharing onwards).

A fab day, overall. I've been to a couple of these events now, and every time they feel really exciting: QS feels like a movement that is just going mainstream. Kudos to Adriana and team for organising and running the day, and thanks to Hub Westminster for hosting.