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November 19, 2012

Süddeutsche Zeitung – Quantified-Self

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Press Review : Süddeutsche newspaper : 13th October 2012

A summary of the Süddeutsche Zeitung article in English. The article offers a good insight of the Quantified Self movement – as seen through a journalist who also attended the  Quantified Self meet-up Nr. 5 in Munich, Germany.

Do you remember how long and how deeply you slept on May 23rd?  Do you recall how many calories were in your breakfast?  If you think no one cares or wants to know, you’re mistaken.  There are people who want to know these things and much more – including blood sugar, pulse, bowel movement details, the number of steps they walked that day and every other day – and they want to know, too, how these statistics affect their productivity.

The number of individuals practicing self-tracking (Quantified Self or QS) is constantly growing.  Interest in such detailed personal data may begin innocently enough – with shoes, for example.  On a projector screen at a Quantified Self meet-up in Munich, observers see a flashing graphic that says, “Your shoes are connected.”  Roman Kling, a presenter at the meet-up, holds up two shoes.  At first glance they appear to be simply normal athletic shoes such as those made by Nike. “The difference is that the entire sole of the shoes consist of sensors,” explains the blonde software developer.

Kling slips into the shoes. “Your shoes are connected” flashes on the screen. “With this device,” explained Kling, “I can measure how many steps I walk or run every day.” The sensors in his shoes send the data to his smartphone.  His smartphone then creates a motion profile from the information collected that teaches him about proper posture and suggests exercises for his back.

The 13 participants of the QS meet-up are spellbound.  Kling speaks three words, “track… devices… sports movement,” emphasizing each word as if casting a magic spell.

Kling and the other presenters at the meet-up have even more gadgets to present: a colorful flashing wristband that measures physical activity and an iPhone app designed to monitor stress levels, as well as tools for tracking and managing weight, heart rate, mental wellbeing and sleep patterns.

The audience contains mostly men with MacBooks and three-day beards who have come, in a way, to measure their egos.  This regular event – “the meet-up,” as they call it conveys an aura of Eucharistic concelebration.  The projector acts as the altar, the iPhone is host and the lit white apple logo on the laptops offers the unifying symbol of worship.

“Self-Hacking,” “Self-Tracking,” and “Quantified Self” or QS, are all terms for a trend that flows from the U.S. to Germany.  With a wide variety of technical devices and smartphone applications, users distill down their own body’s movement and other data to learn the relationship between such things as pulse and productivity or sleep duration and stress level.

Users of these technologies become quantified. “A mirror of the self is created through the analysis of the data,” says Florian Schumacher, organizer of the meet-up.  The motivating aspect is in the tracking of data.  “Most who are tracking and recording such data want to make some sort of a change,” says Schumacher.  This could be an increased achievement on the job; but it could also mean alleviating the suffering of patients with chronic illnesses.  It also clearly relates to “self-tuning,” says the 32 year-old.

Schumacher sees these “data disciples” as people in good company. Even Goethe and Benjamin Franklin kept daily diaries of many of the ill during the 19th century, resulting in clear records of symptoms and their remedies.  “And what jogger has never compared his most recent time to his time from last week?” asks Schumacher.

Schumacher is in Germany and is considered a kind of modern prophet in this Quantified Self-Developing country.  He runs the German QS website and publishes a blog on which he calls for “a healthier lifestyle and a healthcare system that reflects our individuality.” He also works for a company that manufactures technologies to wear – such as clothing containing data-collecting sensors.

Schumacher travels regularly to Silicon Valley where the movement originated.  There, the technology journalist Gary Wolf, simultaneously with the advent of the iPhone in 2007, identified the concept of “self-knowledge through numbers, “because we humans are not physically and mentally able to record ourselves.” “We need the help of machines,” explained Wolf later to the New York Times.

Since then, the movement has continued to grow.  Today, throughout 28 countries, there are nearly 90 groups like the one in Munich.  A new group is created almost weekly.  The health/fitness/ technology industry recognizes this growth and has responded with an armada of apps and measuring instruments.  They have names like AccuFuel, AffectCheck, AirStrip, Adidas MICoach, Anki, AgingSpine, Anytime Health, Asthmapolis and Azumio – and these are only those beginning with the letter A.  There are sleep monitoring systems, stress level testers and breath analyzers just to name a few.  This is a giant new market. The journalist Jan Keno-Jansen, in an QS-article written for c’t magazine, estimates that based on a month-long survey, the volume for self-tracking products will be four billion USD by the year 2015.

The hype is not accepted by everyone, though.  “We cannot count our way to health to achieve the perfect life,” Says writer Juli Zeh.  “I have a feeling that for those who are self-searching, this (QS with technology) operates as a sort of substitute for religion.  Above all, it interferes with the word “self” in the term Quantified Self.  Zeh called QS “superficial…totally self-centered and…a kind of manly anorexia.” In one of her early novels, Corpus Delecti, the inhabitants live in a dystopian future in which there is no need for the human body and deviations from the established State norm for health standards is punishable by death.  You have to know this to understand Zeh’s criticism of Quantified Self.  “If there is an optimum lifestyle that leads to the optimal body,” Zeh write in the Swiss Tages-Anzeiger,” then there are also measurable deviations which can result in reward and punishment. “

Already, the healthcare system is overwhelmed and would seemingly be happy to use Quantified Self as an excuse to deny insurance benefits on the principal that individuals are able to monitor and be responsible, in part, for their own health.

Florian Schumacher says, “These accusations are not justifiable.” and wrote about Zeh’s concerns on his blog.  However, he admits that the health insurance industry has, indeed, shown an interest in Quantified Self and this confession is supported by Schumacher’s guests such as Yago Veith.

Veith, the likeable Swiss, with his company Quentiq, developed a kind of “Facebook for Health.”  Quentiq is an internet platform which, when used regularly, will calculate and display one’s personal health level ranging from 0 to 1000.  This quantified level is identified as the “health score.”  Veith’s health score is 736, and is displayed on the screen at the Munich meet-up.

The Quentiq app uses motion sensors to measure Veith’s athletic activities and the comprehensive questionnaire gathers and tracks information on weight, height and emotional state of being.  During his demonstration of the Quentiq platform, Veith clicks on one of his colleagues, all of whom are using Quentiq regularly. The statement, “Andre is currently jogging” is visible on the screen and indicates the routine he is tracking in Zurich.  Veith believes we can and should challenge ourselves.  The best jogging ranking recorded was approximately 700 km (434 MI) in one month.  The platform creates a sort of fitness-based computer game with leaderboards and awards.  Veith is convinced. “If you get a response, you participate more actively,” he says.

Still a novelty for the few, Quentiq has already targeted the health system as a whole.  “The platform has the potential to reduce the cost of health insurance companies by having the insured take responsibility for their own health,” it says on the company’s website.  The AOK Northeast is one of the first insurance firms on board.  Each of AOK’s 1.8 million policy holders has access to the network and all its features for free, explains their spokesman.  The goal of this pilot project is to reach and engage the “young tech-savvy audience.”

AOK will not be privy to the detailed health information of the participants.  Only anonymous data is collected.  “We have to look at how this trend will develop,” says the spokesperson.   Employers should be able to benchmark the health and fitness status of their employees and compare such data to different sectors of the industry.

Others, such as Scanadu, Wikilife and TicTrack provide similar services and have invested a great deal of venture capital in the market. “Theoretically,” Veith says, “you could use the health score as a value for the health insurance contribution rate, even if it seems a little odd to do so.” The idea here is that those who train more should pay less.    One of the meet-up participants, a fit and sporty Munich self-tracker who, as a self-employed freelancer pays a very high contribution to his health insurance can appreciate the idea of lower insurance costs based on QS documentation. “If I [already] pay 100 euros for half an hour per month run at the gym, why not [provide the insurance company my Quentiq data so they’ll lower my insurance rates]?”

“No one is forced to use it,” says Yago Veith.  “You have a choice,” he says.  Another meet-up attendee says of Juli Zeh’s criticism, it is typically German to immediately think of monitoring or supervision ala Big Brother.  It’s much more exciting “to have this information.”

Gather the data and then what?  U.S. medical professor Glibert Welch, in his book Over Diagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health, suggests that if one monitors himself too closely, he runs the risk of finding something wrong.  Already, QS has produced its first extreme cases. American  entrepreneur Dave Asprey claims to have achieved a twenty-minute-long orgasm by self-surveying; and Berlin blogger Christian Heller has recorded his entire daily routine and eating patterns for a full two years.  Most self-trackers, though, are probably more like Doug Kanter.  Kanter is a type-1 diabetes patient who compared 25,000 blood values to 850 insulin boxes over 100 days. He proved that in his case, a low carbohydrate diet is beneficial to his health and has adjusted his diet accordingly.  Here is where the concept of self-tracking begins to be of interest for medical and research purposes.

Patients like Kanter can access their self-tracking data with confidence and share that data with their fellow-patients on web-based experience-sharing networks like PatientsLikeMe.  The network maintains its own independent research department which analyzes the patient-provided information.  Based on this data, Paul Wicks, in the journal Nature Biotechnology, illustrates that lithium salts have little or no impact on the progress of the nerve disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – placing doubt on the results of previous research.  Even pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis use the anonymous data of thousands of patients from these types of networks for their own study.  This type of research is a well-suited adjunct to traditional clinical trials and is especially beneficial in uncovering side effects, writes Jeana Frost of the University of Amsterdam.

 

Original article in German:

Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Vermessung des Ichs

Die Vermessung des Ichs; Ein neuer Trend schwappt aus den USA nach Deutschland. Mit Sensoren, Digitaltechnik und Smartphones analysieren Menschen pausenlos ihr Befinden. An den neuen Möglichkeiten sind auch Krankenversicherer und Arbeitgeber interessiert

Wissen Sie noch, wie lange und wie tief Sie am 23. Mai geschlafen haben? Wie viele Kalorien Ihr Frühstück hatte? Will doch keiner wissen, sagen Sie? Oh ja. Es gibt Leute, die das ganz genau wissen wollen – und noch viel mehr: Blutzuckergehalt, Puls, Stuhlgang, wie viele Schritte sie an jenem Tag und an allen anderen Tagen gehen, wie sich das auf ihre Produktivität auswirkt. Diese Zahl der Selbstvermesser wächst.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Die Vermessung des Ichs

Source: Newspaper hardcopy Süddeutsche Zeitung, 13th October 2012, Die Vermessung des Ichs

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