The 2012 Quantified Self Conference

600 self-trackers, scientists and developers gathered September 2012 in Palo Alto for the Quantified Self conference. The event offered a wide range of knowledge and exchange of experience.

This year, the Quantified Self Conference took place on the 15th and 16th of September 2012 in Palo Alto, California. At the Arrillaga Alumni Center of the Stanford University 600 self-trackers, scientists, entrepreneurs and journalists met up to exchange their stories and to network. Two days beforehand, more than 40 organizers from cities such as New York, London, Amsterdam, and Singapore had met up to discuss the development of each of the Quantified Self groups they led and to give each other tips for building up the community. This was a great opportunity especially for the organizers of European Quantified Self groups to get to know each other better and work out ideas of how to provide better support for each other.

From left to right: Gary Wolf (QS Labs), me and Maarten den Braber (QS Amsterdam) (cc by rajiv zumi)

The conference itself kicked off on the 15th of September with a keynote speech by Gary Wolf, Co-Founder of Quantified Self. Along with a line of other speakers, he gave an overview of the origins of the movement and the importance of Show & Tell as a central element of the Quantified Self meetups. In these short presentations, the speakers offer an insight into their self-tracking projects and can thus convey what they have learned about themselves. The visitors could convince themselves of the entertaining qualities of this form of presentation in a total of 26 contributions throughout the conference. In the further course of the keynote speech, Davis Masten emphasized the potential that the growing dispersion of sensor technologies has for science and research. Thus, according to Masten, the number of sensors built into smartphones will increase from five to fifteen in the next years, which will constitute an enormous source of data. Also, the amount of sensors, which are installed in cities in order to measure traffic, the air quality and many other parameters are expected to increase 20-fold by 2020. The data that governments, communities, businesses and even private individuals are able to generate with these technologies can be used in research and development at a completely new level of detail.

Gary Wolf at the keynote speech (cc by chloester)

After this keynote the conference programs were officially opened. In six blocks over the two days, visitors were given the opportunity to choose between multiple presentations taking place simultaneously, which resulted in more than 200 presentations and workshops available in total. These numerous offers along with multiple breaks allowed for plenty of time for the participants to exchange information. From all the presentations and workshops that I visited, the workshop offered by Michael Kim about Habit Design particularly impressed me. There, the leader of the San Francisco Habit Design meetups talked about the elements necessary to develop products and services, which can support people in acquiring positive habits. Kim showed that Quantified Self and Gamification alone are mostly not enough to achieve long-lasting changes, but that instead many further circumstances in the user’s daily routine also play a determining role. In particular, he underlined the importance of triggers such as reminders, in order to practice new behavior regularly. I learned so much from this discussion that I would like to offer some deeper insights into this topic in one of my upcoming articles.

Conference Room in the Alumni Center of the Stanford University (cc by chloester)

One of the highlights among the many program points was surely the testimonial given by the entrepreneur and biohacker Dave Asprey, who had conducted self-experiments on his sexuality. Thus, he had managed, with the help of a number of various exercises, to experience an orgasm that lasted 20 minutes (to those, who are interested, it should be mentioned at this point that Mr. Asprey seriously advises against any imitation. here you’ll find further information). The presentation by the former wrestler Calvin Buhler about targeted changes of one’s physique also proved entertaining. Buhler described how he had started losing so much muscle mass after ending his wrestling career, that he ended up being half the man he used to be. Finally, with a special fitness and nutritional program, he built up 40 pounds of muscle mass in 40 weeks and then presented to his audience the process of the changes in his physique depending on nutrient in-take. Besides the many presentations and workshops, some of the most popular companies in the Quantified Self scene such as Bodymedia, Zeo and 23andme along with numerous start-ups such as Lift, Scanadu, Tictrac and WikiLife introduced themselves. This gave a good overview of upcoming trends and enabled a direct contact to the founders and developers of these companies.

The organizers of the worldwide Quantified Self groups (cc by rajiv zume)

A further highlight of the conference was the closing speech by Kevin Kelly, Co-Founder of Quantified Self. Here, he talked about the development of the self and the importance of data. When considering cultural history, awareness of the Self is a relatively young achievement, whereas the sense for individuality hadn’t developed in our historic ancestors for the longest time. According to Kelly, the current advance in sensor technology results in an expansion of the self based on the information that we can derive from the world we live in – a data sphere. The potential of Quantified Self and the capturing of data therefore lays less in numbers and graphs as much in opening our senses to allow us to perceive things that had previously remained concealed to us. In the second part of his speech, Kelly talked about data, its value and how it should be used. In this illustration, he advocated an open approach to data, which in their raw form, much like the letters of the alphabet, can serve as a basis to create larger structures with profound meaning. Not until data is coalesced with the enrichment of its context can naked data produce valuable information. Thus, Kelly concluded, raw data should not be considered as the property of businesses and institutions, but rather should be made accessible to third parties, in order to make their inherent potential available for refinement. This philosophical and visionary view of the Quantified Self and the potential of personal data was an apt closing and inspired many participants to further discussions even after the official end of the conference that shall surely soon find their continuation. The next Quantified Self Conference will take place in Amsterdam in May 2013.

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