Sunday, February 3, 2013

I am happy to be a number...or two

Patrick McGoohan proclaimed to us in The Prisoner that he was not a number, he was a free man.

Well I am happy to be reduced to numbers, not just a single number but a collection of numeric data that defines me.

I was always pretty good at maths when I was at school. It was a subject I took right through to graduation because I knew I could pass it without any great effort because it just made sense. That gave me the time to concentrate on the subjects I was really interested in: Music, French, History, English and Drama.

The idea that mathematics could actually be useful to me never entered the equation, my future was mapped out and the logic of maths was not really featuring there.

Lately I have had cause to be grateful for my mathematical aptitude all those years ago, and for the fact that my innate ability to understand numbers has stayed with me. Why? Because I have  discovered a movement called Quantified Self and, just like maths in my teens, this makes sense to me.

The Quantified Self movement is all about measuring and acquiring data on various aspects of your life - most commonly - the steps you take each day, the food you eat, your heart-rate amongst others. A large percentage of the population, at least in the "western world" is doing at least some of this every day and not understanding that they are quantifying their lives...taking aspects of existence and transforming these into numbers.

Quantification in this form has been around for at least as long as medicine. Every time you go to the  doctor you are reduced to a series of numbers:

   Blood pressure
   Blood composition
   Respiratory rate
   Body temperature....

If you have been in hospital, particularly after surgery, you will be familiar with the quantification of pain. You will be asked to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst pain you have ever felt and 1 being no pain at all. The introduction of this simple method of judging pain, which is very subjective, was a breakthrough in the medicine of pain control, the numbers are very powerful.

People suffering from chronic asthma will know the drill of taking peak flow readings to keep track of the state of their breathing; diabetics monitor the level of blood glucose several times daily.

All these numbers tell your doctor a huge amount about your current state of health, the movement of those numbers over time tells even more. This is immensely powerful data about you.

When you quantify yourself, rather than letting someone else be the custodian of that information, you take a lot of power back. Unless you have a laboratory at your disposal you are probably not going to keep a track of your blood composition, but just keeping an eye on the basics can tell you a lot. 

There are some pretty clever gadgets out there to help you measure these numbers. My personal tracker of choice at the moment is a FitBit One, this little device measures the steps I take each day, the number of flights of stairs I climb, the calories I burn and takes a fairly rudimentary stab at assessing the quality of my sleep. I am also able to diarise my eating enabling the FitBit dashboard to tell me whether I am in credit or deficit in the calorie stakes. 

There are a myriad of other devices and apps you can use to measure these and other aspects of your life, take a look at some of these and see what takes your fancy:

   Jawbone UP
   Azumio apps

Why do I measure? Initially it was all part of a get fit and lose weigh regimen, but then I realised that the benefits to my health extend much further than that primary goal. Monitoring and measuring allow you to notice minuscule changes in your physiology before these impact on your well-being. Tracking what you eat and what you do and the influence these have on your body and your emotional state gives you opportunities to avoid negative influences and  boost the positive.

I was looking at an info-graphic the other  day that predicted that we would see the first human reach 150 years of age in around 100 years time.I wouldn't mind betting that this current 50 year old is a 'quantified selfer' right now.

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