Katherine Kim, iN Touch Principal Investigator
What a privilege it was to attend the Wired Health Conference: Living By Numbers in New York City last week. Thanks, RWJF, for the invitation! Every talk offered something new, something surprising, or something provocative.
Nicholas Felton, a renowned graphic designer, talked about how he started producing the Feltron Personal Annual Report in 2006 because he wanted to tell the story of his life. He evolved his process of data collection in three stages. At first, he used “archeology,” leveraging data from records that already existed. These data included photographs, music downloads, subway rides. He found that 1% of his photos in 2006 included his cat. Next, he used “data hoarding,” collecting data expressly for the purpose of tracking. During this two-year phase he collected every receipt and calendared obsessively. He became aware of how many “lethal doses of caffeine” he consumed in a year. Now, he is “sampling” to help understand what he calls the intractable questions like what do I eat, how do I feel, who do I talk to, and what is my social network. These data are difficult to collect constantly and often non-standard. By analyzing free text comments through Mechanical Turk he discovered that he was 73% happy, or in his personal dictionary, “swell.”
Nicholas Christakis of Harvard’s Human Nature Laboratory discussed social networks and how they can be more influential than mass media on people’s behavior. His research on social networks related to obesity showed that it the condition was contagious: individuals whose immediate network included a friend, sibling, or spouse who became obese were more likely to become obese (57%, 40% and 37% respectively). Even those who were one or two individuals removed were more likely to be obese. This was not the case for geographic neighbors. This effect can also apply to positive health states.
Jennifer Kurkoski and Brian Welle of Google’s human resources organization showed how asking big questions could lead to breakthroughs. The question they asked was “What if working at Google added two years to your life?” This led to their redesigning access to food on their campus from smaller plates in the cafes to placing M&Ms in opaque containers while putting healthier options in see-through bins. Their early surveys are showing that employees like these changes and they are making healthier choices.
As we consider our next steps for iN Touch, I wonder: what if going to a high school with iN Touch added five years to a youth’s life? How could we evolve our approach to self-tracking of ODLs to identify the key signals? And, what would a school need to leverage the social network that lives within it to make health contagious?