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Wellness as a currency – Learnings from the 2013 Quantified Self Conference in San Francisco

After a wonderful experience at the Quantified Self Conference in Amsterdam earlier this year, my expectations for the Global version on the big stage in San Francisco were quite high. The program looked very promising and with the arrival at the beautiful Golden Gate Club in the Presidio of San Francisco, I couldn’t wait for it to start.

N=1: A “movement” of self-quantifying individuals

Whereas other conferences often open with an awkward get-to-know-each-other ceremony, a Quantified Self event feels more like an informal gathering of like-minded fellows. Recognizing many familiar faces from Amsterdam, I felt welcome from the beginning and it felt only natural to befriend the still unfamiliar ones. In the opening plenary, QS co-founder Gary Wolf once again shared his vision of Quantified Self as a n=1 movement of self-observing individuals (n=1 referring to studies with only one subject). Quantified Self simply is not about large scale research with control groups. Or as fellow blogger Whitney Erin Boesel put it: “It’s about adopting what “works” (for you), and ignoring what doesn’t.”

QS-Conference
http://www.flickr.com/photos/krynsky/

Nothing for passive listeners, go mingle!

The event was set up in conventional Quantified Self format with many simultaneous sessions. Next to the Plenaries, there were Show&Tell Talks, Conversations, Breakouts, and Office Hours providing lots of information to be shared during the frequent breaks. With all this material floating around, QS events come to life in the exchanges with others. Anyone just sitting in and passively listening would have a hard time getting his or her money’s worth.

My Thursday highlights

“If it’s relevant to you, it’s relevant!”

The first talk that caught my attention was given by Ian Eslick on “Doing Great Personal Experiments.” Ian contrasted clinical research with self-experimentation and highlighted the significance and value of both. Even though personal experiments might be flawed and statistically insignificant on a clinical level, they still might carry very important personal significance for the individual.

Meeting Linda Avey, Co-Founder of 23andMe and Curious, Inc.

My spit hasn’t found its way into one of 23andMe’s tubes yet but I am very intrigued by the powers of genetic testing. The company offers an affordable genetic screening that provides individuals with reports on their inherited health conditions, traits, and lineage. Linda then left the company in 2009 and established Curious, Inc., a platform that allows people to analyze and interpret their personal data and share it with their community. I was excited to discuss the combination of biomarker and genetic testing with this impressive and very approachable entrepreneur.

Rejection therapy: “Could I buy only one M&M?”

One of the funniest talks was given by AskMeEvery’s Mark Moschel who overcame his fear of rejection by… well… getting rejected every day for 30 days straight! During this month of social challenges, Mark confronted people with mostly silly questions such as if he could borrow money from a grocery store clerk to if he could visit the storage facilities of a warehouse. Even though Mark noticed a sharp increase in confidence during the 30 days, the newly won courage almost dropped to the starting point shortly after he had stopped the experiment.

My Friday Highlights

A crush on a guy called Zip

Highly entertaining was Kitty Ireland’s exploration of her grandma’s diary from 1942. Her grandma Pat painstakingly maintained a diary where she logged everything from meals she consumed, locations she frequented, and (quite a few) boys she had dated. Kitty then correlated her findings with patterns in her own life and identified several parallels. As engaging as this detailed look into a past life was, we were spared a happy end. Grandma Pat’s apparent partner of choice, a guy called Zip as highlighted decoratevily on several pages, disappeared from the log after some time.

A black market for sensor-less clothing and wellness as a currency

Most breakout sessions that I attended were either too crowded or too disorganized, or both. However, the session “QS in 10 & 100 Years” by QS co-founder Kevin Kelly had some very interesting visions of the future of QS. When everything we do is tracked and measured, we might become civilian scientist of our own biology. Our environment would then react to all of our immediate needs: sensors will tell us at all times when we should eat, run, sleep, work, and socialize to optimize our well-being. The information would then be shared with friends and families but also with doctors, employers, and insurance companies. A world of endless possibilities for easy self- enhancement might then turn into a scary rat race with wellness and privacy as a currency. The healthier and more transparent you choose to be, the less you pay. Someone even proposed that instead of reading about Forbes Magazine’s wealthiest people, we might find a list with the world’s biggest “healthionnaires.” Another fascinating vision was an overly transparent, technology-ridden world with black markets for sensor-free clothing and under-the-radar items.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/krynsky/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/krynsky/

Pitching my project Biotrakr to Dave Asprey, the Bulletproof Executive

What a wonderful feeling to get positive feedback on what you’re working on from one of the field’s greats. Dave Asprey, supposedly the first person to ever sell anything on the internet, cloud computing expert, long-term biohacker, and founder of The Bulletproof Executive brand, really can be considered a pioneer in the field of QS. When I presented him with my idea for Biotrakr, a web-based and intuitive health coach that provides personalized health recommendations based on biomarker diagnostics, Dave was intrigued and shared with me some of his learnings as an advisor for WellnessFX. Moreover, Dave called Vitamin D the “most important biohack” and described eagerly how he prepares and smokes his own bacon at his home on Vancouver Island.

A meal tracker, a breath-taking shirt, and Finnish QS domination

In comparison to Amsterdam, I really liked that we had a separate room for companies showing off their newest gadgets this time. And there were many very cool ones!

AIRO – The next generation wristband

It’s been only a couple of weeks now that I’ve received my UP band replacement (as in so many other cases, it broke after about 3 months) and restarted tracking my activitiy and sleep… Activity and sleep? How basic! AIRO is now working on a spectroscopic tracker that not only tracks activity and sleep but also stress levels and calorie intake. Automatically! Preleminary release is set for the end of 2014 so we’ll have to wait a bit.

OMSignal – The future of clothing

OMSignal is definitely making some noise. They just took home the DC to VC People’s Choice Award at the Health 2.0 conference in Santa Clara three weeks ago and they also were one of the major attractions at QS 2013. Their prototype shirt allows continuous tracking of biometrics by monitoring heart rate, breathing, and activity. The consumer can then display the data in real-time on a mobile phone.

Ambro – The 20-ingredient meal replacement

Amazing, how the Finnish constantly come up with great ideas in the QS space. Ambro is only one out of three of my personal highlights (the other two being Beddit and Health Puzzle’s app YOU). What I really like about Ambro: they don’t claim that you can entirely live on it like their most famous competitor Soylent does with its product. Instead, they offer a highly nutritional drink for the occasional cooking inertia.

Beddit – ZEO 2.0

The team around Lasse Leppäkorpi had presented its sleep tracking sensor that is placed under the sheet already in Amsterdam. This time, I had the chance for a lengthy conversation with Lasse about the origins of the company six years ago, it’s takeover of the ZEO team along the way and its upcoming move to the Valley. Subscribe here for updates, sleep trackers!

There were plenty more captivating ideas, apps, concepts, and services that I’m not going to list. If you want to find out more, visit some of the other blog articles on the conferences listed below. I also added a link to a youtube video of the talk by Zipongo, a company that makes personalized healthy meal plans based on your eating preferences.

Did the event eventually meet my expectations? Right after the event, I wasn’t sure. It didn’t flash me as much as my first QS conference. But now, after gathering my thoughts and looking over my notes, I say: definitely! There certainly were aspects that can be optimized such as the temperature (it was freezing inside), the organization of some of the sessions (a simple agenda would suffice), and the coffee refills (ran out several times). Other than that, hat’s off to the organizers! I hope to see all of you in Amsterdam next year!

On a side note, I loved the healthy, organic, gluten-free, vegan snack bars as well as the large plates full of cooked eggs!

Final words: turn up the heat and see you in Amsterdam!

Maximilian Gotzler

This is a guest post from Maximilan Gotzler, Founder of Biotrakr and supporter of the Berlin Quantified Self Meetup

Memolane and Patchlife – Your Digital Memories

With web 2.0, the internet has become interactive. Beyond just consuming information, we now like, love, share, tweet, recommend and +1 any content we find worth it. In doing so, each one of us produces lots of new information. The more our lives are supported by apps, software tools and social networks, the more we might take the information we produce while using them as a representation of what we do and who we are. Memolane and Patchlife both came up with services that aim to make this data more valuable for us.

Memolane comes with a beautiful timeline

Memolane imports information from various web 2.0 services and gathers it into one horizontal timeline. This creates a good overview of your past activities and is particularly nice to look at on a large screen. All you have to do is connect your accounts from Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Youtube or Instagram to your Memolane profile. You can then navigate through time and view all your past status updates, tweets, check-ins and so on in your personal memory lane.

For every web profile connected to your Memolane account, you can decide whether you want to keep the information private, share it with Memolane friends or make it open for public access. Another feature is the ability create stories from your digital past by selecting status updates, checkins or any other memory from your online life. This can also be done along with your Memolane friends. What I really like is that the web application is 100% iPad compatible.

Patchlife is the online journal that gathers your digital memories

In contrast, Patchlife shows information in a stream similar to what we’re you used to on Facebook and many other services. It’s designed so that you can jump directly from a monthly calendar view to daily information about your past activities.

PatchlifeThis service, which is totally private, can be used as a journal by creating personal remarks or uploading pictures, which makes it a bit like the popular iPhone app Momento. Unlike Memolane, Patchlife comes with an iPhone app that allows accessing your data and entering text on the go, while the website is fully iPad compatible.

Hot or not?

Memolane and Patchlife are currently running in beta modus and can each be used free of charge. Both of them offer a unique overview of your digital history and should be particularly interesting for those who want to remember what they deemed important to post, share, tweet or check-in in the past. While the types of profiles that can be added to each application differ slightly, both Memolane and Patchlife cover the most important ones, including Facebook pages and multiple Twitter accounts. Memolane comes with a visually beautiful approach and sharing features for your digital memories. Patchlife sets its focus on privacy and lets you use it as your personal journal.

If you wonder wether Memolane and Patchlife will offer benefits over Facebook’s soon to be rolled out Timeline, I can assure you that they are. I’ve been testing the developer release of Facebook’s update to the profile page for quite some time now. From what I’ve seen so far, the timeline will only show events from other services that you’ve been posting to your stream. In contrast, Memolane and Patchlife import everything, even you’ve decided not to share on Facebook. That makes the two services attractive for everyone who is using a lot of different social networks independently.

When it comes to web activities, there are more than social networks. Tracking and analyzing your web surfing history is another big field of your digital life that can be covered with two new dedicated services. Watch out for a review on egoArchive and Voyurl coming up soon.

Everyday – Train Your Camera Smile

Let’s be honest – who has ever truly felt comfortable with having to pose and paste on a smile for a picture? I know I never really used to be. Somehow I couldn’t let go and just smile. The iPhone app Everyday was a great tool to help me really improve this. Just as the name might suggest, Everyday offers to document a portrait of you every day, and then automatically combines each picture to create a short movie which shows you how your looks change over time. Is there any better way to celebrate your own personal development than by watching how you improve yourself from day to day?

The app was actually inspired by Noah Kalina, who took a picture of himself every single day for 6 years. He has a video posted on youtube which combines all the pictures into a 6 minute movie. It is actually quite moving to watch, you can see how time flies by and how each day, he changes just a little bit from the day before.

Create a video documentation for yourself with Everyday

What I really enjoy about the Everyday app is that it allows you to set a fixed time at which it will remind you to take your picture each day. On top of this, it will automatically calibrate and combine all the pictures you have taken to a video documentation of yourself. The app does not necessarily require you to look happy for your daily portraits, but it sure is a great way to learn how to overcome camera shyness and become more aware of your facial expressions.

Get control of your facial expressions by watching yourself Every Day

Just like hearing your voice recorded sounds kind of silly at first and takes a little getting used to, really watching your facial expressions each day can get you accustomed to understanding how others might see you. When interacting, our body language – which to a large extent consists of our facial expressions – confers more of our message than the words we choose to say it. Monitoring your facial expressions thus becomes a huge way to impact the way you communicate and interact with others; learning to control it means that you can really get your message across when you need to. By seeing yourself through a camera lens you can learn to better appreciate your expressions and the impact you can make on others.

In case you do decide to smile on your Everyday documentation, remember that a real smile isn’t just about showing your teeth. A happy smile comes from the heart, and people can tell you’re being genuine when your eyes crinkle up.