Part I: The Quantified Self
"Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create super-human intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended."
' Vernor Vinge, The Singularity, 1993
Come One, Come All, Into 1984
Not long ago, the idea of touch screens was brand new, hyper-futuristic, even Bradbury-esque. Its ability to be spread to the masses was somewhat doubted. Today, a simple walk down the street or a few minutes on a train will show you just how far that's come. It didn't take long for the technology to become mainstream, conventional, and alarmingly fast, the new normal. In our multi-screened paradigm of instant information, technology is advancing in ways that have the potential to influence the very evolution of the human species'namely, the Quantified Self.
Big Data, Meet the Quantified Self
What is the Quantified Self, exactly? It is a consequence of the capabilities of information and data tracking that modern technology has given us, except that instead of purchasing patterns, Internet usage, or even locations visited, it is data about our physical state.
The Quantified Self is the technology movement that allows us to track every possible activity and influence regarding our bodies. Quality of air and breathing, sleep cycles, mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels and blood pressure, calories consumed and burned; the list is only limited by our imaginations.
The idea is that this exhaustive level of self-tracking allows users to find the secrets to maximum productivity, health, and quality of life. Whereas in the past we trusted doctors, some of the most highly educated and honorable professionals, to monitor and evaluate this information, we are now able to take healthcare into our own hands. As sensor technology soars past the touch screen and accelerometers, our ability to understand our bodies and minds is reaching heights previously unfathomable, with the potential to make the need for doctors a thing of the past.
Examples of technology that are leveraging data to quantify 'us':
Northpaw is worn around the ankle and gives a constant, gentle, motor-derived vibration on whichever side is facing north. The idea is to train one's motor skills to have an instinctive sense of direction'a Pavlovian concept that could be controversial when applied to humans.
Zeo, which tracks the quality of sleep through a headband, gives personal advice based on findings.
Armour39'?¢, available Spring 2013, tells you how hard you worked out. The module plugs into the chest strap, stores your biometric info and syncs it with the Armour39'?¢ App or Watch. It measures calories burned, heart rate, intensity, and WILLpower'?¢-- an algorithm that combines how long you workout, what you did, profile info like gender and weight, and key heart rate measures to give you a single score.
Garmin Forerunner 610 GPS is a heart rate monitor in watch form, which provides accurate distance, pace, GPS position, heart rate and calories burned; it can also guide you back to the starting point of your run so you'll never get lost.
Garmin Approach S3 is a GPS-enabled golf watch packed with tens of thousands of courses worldwide, shows the true shape and layout of the green and helps users perfect their game.
Vital Sign Monitors:
Basis is a watch that captures heart rate patterns, motion, perspiration and skin temperature throughout the day and night. This highlights the trend of excessively quantifying ourselves, as well as the possibility of eliminating the necessity for doctors.
Withings is company that offers, among other products, smart blood-pressure trackers that plug into your smartphone. Again, this device leaves us one step closer to cutting out the middle man (doctors), and trusting an app to guide our understanding of health.
FitBit is a pocket device that measures steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, activity intensity, sleep quality, and elevation
Reebok's CheckLight monitors the brain during sports to determine the level of injury or presence of a concussion (and could also be considered mind-reading).
And last but not least:
Nike+ FuelBand tracks your daily activity including running, walking, basketball, dancing and more. It tracks each step taken and calories burned.
The Quantified Society
If every possible piece of data about our bodies has the ability to be tracked nonstop, where does this leave the need for doctors, nurses, nutritionists, sleep labs, or pharmacies? In the near future, will all of our vital signs be uploaded to a cloud hospital, whose algorithms check for abnormalities instantaneously? As marketers, this potential for enormous amounts of personal data to be collected, as well as the ability to replace healthcare professionals, implies a huge amount of trust on the part of the consumer. Just as doctors must take the Hippocratic Oath, marketers must remain ethical and honest in their usage of personal data, and keep in mind that people could be putting their lives in our hands.
Was there a Body-Product technology we missed? Tell us about it in a comment, and stay tuned for Part II, which discusses the darker side of Body-Product Integration and the Transhumanism movement.