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The quantified self – Using technology to improve self-knowledge

Life hacking involves collecting, monitoring and analysing data

Welcome to the age of the ‘quantified self’, also referred to as personal informatics, life hacking, self-hacking or self-tracking, where personal data is collected, measured and compared to shape life decisions and future actions.

The movement really took hold in California in 2007 when journalist and author Gary Wolf co-founded the Quantified Self blog, which carries the slogan ‘self-knowledge through numbers’.

A minefield of personal data

The ‘quantified self’ craze quickly gathered a following of early adopters, from technology evangelists, fitness freaks to personal improvement enthusiasts who began measuring pretty much any personal data that can be measured.

From sleep patterns, footsteps taken, calorie intake, heart rate, memories, physical exertion right down to more personal details such as bowel movements and patterns of sexual activity, no stone is left unturned as fans of the movement seek to understand how data shapes our lives.

The impact of technology

Smartphones have played an obvious role in the popularity of self-tracking for the average man on the street. Over half of Australians are now armed with a smartphone and recent research by Nielsen forecasts  39% of Australian homes will own a tablet computer by 2013.

These devices are packed with cameras, motion sensors and GPS – all essential tools for self-tracking.

There’s an app for that

These are just a few of the most popular self-track apps that are available in Google Play and the App Store:

  • SleepCycle tracks your sleep quality through the night using the accelerometer in your phone. By comparing night time routines and your daily activity, you can pinpoint what helps you achieve better quality sleep.
  • RunKeeper monitors fitness activity using a smartphone’s GPS to measure data such as distance, pace, calories and heart rate, as well as tracking the route taken.
  • Lose It! – a straightforward app that balances activity and calorie intake from food to ensure dieters stay on track.
  • MoodPanda – rate your happiness on a scale of zero to ten each day with a short comment to track your mood. There’s also a community of users to provide support.
  • Momento – an iPhone journal writing app that allows you to easily compile a photo or text journal. The app integrates with address book and GPS to seamlessly tag locations and people and can synch with social networks to automatically update events.

The ‘quantified self’ is here to stay

Virtually all of our actions generate data – it’s about how we use this to shape decisions. No matter what your aim is in life, there’s a way to measure and improve your path to get there.

Have you tried any tools to quantify yourself? Tell us in the comments section below about your experiences.

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