One step at a time numbers are changing the world. Education, politics, transport: so many areas of of our lives have been enhanced through quantification. One stat, one infographic at a time, society has become acclimatised to talking about the world through the lens of numbers, data and patterns. Our contemporary view of the world is now rooted in quantification.
So it’s no surprise really that the next frontier to be enhanced by ‘quantification’ should be our own personal lives. Our health, our finances, our habits. The Quantified Self’s time has come. Venture funding for Quantified Self startups has increased 165% in the last year . There are now over 500 different tools listed on the hub site for the Quantified Self movement.
So could it be that personal data is the secret weapon to help us rise through this, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Could it be that self-quantification will evolve us to the pinnacle - of self-actualisation?
Not yet. When you look at the majority of Self Tracking tools out there - tools to track my sleep, tools to track my movement, tools to track what i eat, they are still firmly rooted at the bottom of the pyramid. Currently we’re not rising up the hierarchy of needs so much as getting really good at the basics.
Actualisation has become a the hot topic on the West Coast and our greatest innovators are turning their attention to the question of how technology can improve our overall human condition. Using technology to help us find focus and mindfulness in an increasingly stressed out world. Using technology to inspire awareness and wisdom - 2.0.
The underlying principle is that quantification acts as a mirror, forcing us to stop and to look - at both ourselves and our actions - to notice patterns, problems and habits we can fix.
[Examples of the Hierarchy of the Quantified Self]
Knowledge - rational awareness of what we’re doing - isn’t enough to change our behaviours. The majority of our behaviours are automatic, emotional, irrational - driven by a very different part of the brain to the one that processes data.
To help us evolve as people, the quantified self must be able to change behaviour too. And simply looking retrospectively at our data will never be enough to impact that behaviour. Bad habits are too ingrained and automatic for that.
Much of our discourse on self-analysis is still rooted in the ideas, language and codes of psychology laid out by people like Freud a century ago. It is a field still heavily weighted towards using words and metaphors. Language over data. It’s probably time we brought a little more quantification, a little bit more science into the way we think about how we think and feel.
But any form of quantification should be counterbalanced by qualification. Because the real value often doesn’t come from the data at all, but from the process of doing, documenting and then reflecting on those experiences through documentation.