Posted September 9, 2008 by Lygeia Ricciardi
An article called Bytes of Life in today's Washington Post online explores the proliferation of digital sites and services that help people record and analyze nearly every aspect of their bodies and behaviors. It notes that many people track data that not “meaningful,” (such as the number of green beans they eat), and quips that you can use digital tools to examine your life “to the point that Socrates himself might say, ‘Guys, that's enough.’"
While some think it's futile or ridiculous to monitor every calorie they ingest or the smallest fluctuations in mood, for others, the ability to track and analyze these and other observations in daily living (in Project HealthDesign parlance), is valuable for better understanding and learning to change behaviors. One reason cited in the article is that data helps us to be objective and avoid the “halo effect” of unrealistically positive perceptions of our own behaviors.
Though in the realm of personal data collection one person’s treasure may be another’s trash, it’s exciting (in my opinion) that individuals increasingly have the tools to generate whatever empirical information about themselves they perceive to be useful.
Certainly there are limits to the extent to which an individual can discover the truth about causation (of a health outcome or any other outcome) with data, in part because there is an almost infinite number of variables, and in part because data about a single subject generally yields less knowledge than aggregate data about many people does. But without a doubt there are correlations among behavior, heath, and general wellbeing, even if your subject is just you.
I hope and expect that (green) bean counters and others experimenting at the extremes of data collection and analysis will generate applicable knowledge both for themselves and, in some cases, for the rest of us.
Have a look at the article and see what you think. If you have “data junkie” tendencies, you’ll appreciate that it contains the URLs for sites that let users track geographic location, Internet use, menstrual cycle, and even sex life. As we look forward to the Project HealthDesign expo next week, what do you think? Can there ever be too much personal health information?