Self-tracking is a branch of Big Data reaching far beyond the data engineer. The article, Our Data, Ourselves, states that 27% of internet users are using some type of online system to monitor health indicators such as weight, exercise, diet as well as symptoms of health and disease. Self-tracking can help:
- Track what foods and activities trigger symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches.
- Learn what is our most productive time of day.
- Reduce harmful habits while increasing healthful ones.
I'm sure Socrates wasn't thinking big data when he proclaimed, Know Thyself, but that's exactly what users on the Quantified Self website are thinking. This online community is a collaboration center for self-trackers to share their tools and experiences. They sponsor conferences, show and tell videos, and a comprehensive list of self-tracking tools. It's here that I took my first steps into the wilderness of self-tracking with the iPhone app, Daytum. I'm tracking my daily activity (or lack of) and my calorie intake. Quantified Self encourages a broad spectrum of self-inquiry ranging from how coffee relates to productivity, to how foods affect moods or bowel movements, to what physical activity leads to the best sleep.
The most popular self-tracking tools are seen in the fitness and medical fields. Websites and smartphone apps for tracking health and fitness are exploding. Over 9 million runners use the device, RunKeeper. A more versatile tool, FitBit, wirelessly logs metrics such as brainwave patterns during sleep, heart rate during exercise, leg power exerted when bicycling, and numbers of steps taken. Of the fitness devices I perused, I chose the stylish UP Band by Jawbone to measure the steps I take, the calories I burn, the quantity and quality of sleep I get, my calorie intake, and my heart rate. The device connects to my iPhone, and I can compare my results with other users and even compete with my friends. It's my 24/7 fitness coach.
Smartphones are becoming windows into our behavior and can help us see what symptoms and lifestyle are key to optimizing health and well-being. Passive sensing of our daily lives is a powerful tool for medical and psychological diagnostics. Smartphones contain microphones, GPS locators, and accelerometers. With data collected over years, we can glean insights into the state of our cognitive functions and diagnose declines in these functions before symptoms are obvious. Smartphones can use passive sensing to help us know if we are sick before we are aware of any symptoms. This can come in handy on many levels including disease control. If we know we are coming down with an influenza, we can stay at home and reduce public access to our contagion.
We can go deep into ourselves with Proteus Digital Health's ingestible event marker (IEM). It's about the size of a grain of sand and consists of an integrated circuit and a battery encased in a vitamin-like coating that dissolves in the stomach acid and activates the sensor. It sends out a high-frequency electric current that transmits through the conductive tissue of the body. The signal can be picked up by a monitor patch that is worn on the skin or implanted just under the skin. Data can be read on a range of platforms from a smartphone to a doctor's computer. The device can measure, track, and record a wide range of information that allows a level of monitoring found only in intensive care units.
Safety and security of our personal data is necessary for widespread use of self-tracking. People need to know their data is secure and that they get to choose who sees it or how it is used. We need our own personal "data vaults" where we define the rules and conditions for sharing our data. Safely and easily tracking our health-related information can help us live healthier lives.
And just as self-monitoring can do wonders for our personal health and wellness, network monitoring can help boost our network performance and reliability.