What I saw at Quantified Self Europe 2011 part 1

I was at the Quantified Self Europe conference this past weekend at Amsterdam. Quantified self is a community of hackers who track and monitor their activities to improve (mostly) their health. I came to know of them when I attended the Healthcamp in Bay area in October 2009. Since then, the movement has spread to all parts of the world with the help of Alexandra Carmichael and Gary Wolf.


The conference was held in an unconference format which means that the attendees chose to present their work and the conference is organized around these presentations. There were many parallel sessions and it was very hard to choose one session over another. So depending on which sessions were chosen, the experience of the participant would vary. There were many who did not present but talked about their work when we spoke during the breaks. I have included them also in here.


Theme #1: Quantified Self is preventive health (in other forums, this would be called participatory medicine since the patient takes charge of their own health).  There were many variations of this theme. John Amschler (@jxa) conducted a session on hacking the Zeo clock, fitbit device to understand your health better. He is trying to get the data off these devices, put them together and then understand what his “health baseline” is. He feels that we should be able to understand our health baseline by tracking them often. After we know our baseline, we can then measure your baseline once a year and take action if you are trending away from your baseline. I felt that this is an awesome idea. In factories, we create trend charts for quality of products produced which gives us an understanding of the health of the production process. Why not use the same theory to understand our health better?


Sara Riggare presented how she controls her Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. She has been able to manage the disease due to her keen interest in controlling it. She uses a smartphone app (tonic) to keep track of her meds and understand how they affect her. She uses a Nintendo Wii for adjusting and fine tuning her balance. She is now doing a phd starting in summer 2012 to do research on Parkinson’s! She is a true inspiration. She is moving from being a patient to someone who is actively trying to find a cure! You can read an interview with her here.


Robin Barooah presented his learning from his effort to lose weight. He had gained about 45 lbs after his move to the USA. He designed an interesting process to lose weight. He just tracked his mood 2-3 hours after lunch. He did not even go back and analyze what made him happy and what did not. Just by tracking his mood, he was able to lose about 45 lbs in 18 months.  Just by looking at how he felt after lunch, his brain was able to get a feel for what is healthy and what is not. His conclusion was that our body and brain is wired to do the right thing for being healthy.


The same theme was echoed in another talk about how the presenter lost weight by following a paleo diet. He felt that the act of tracking was making the difference and that it was not the data and the fancy graphs that made the difference.


I also met Martin Suba who was able to reverse his type 2 diabetes by using a combination of exercise (tracked with fitibit), diet control and weight control (tracked with Withings). He is in the process of writing up his experience. I look forward to sharing it.


There were so many other themes and many more talks. I hope to write about them and share them here.