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Bytes of Life

These ideas are the types of heady possibilities that will be discussed by the members of a new group in San Francisco called Quantified Self. Members plan to meet monthly to share with one another the tools and sites they've found helpful on their individual paths to self-digitization. Topics include, according to the group invite: behavior monitoring, location tracking, digitizing body info and non-invasive probes.

"Don't you think it's kind of obvious that if you step on a scale, there should be something that sends the information to your computer?" asks Gary Wolf, a contributing editor at Wired magazine and one of Quantified Self's co-founders. "Isn't it ridiculous to think that blood pressure shouldn't be measured at least once a day, if not several times a day?"

Wolf is a tracker whose particular interest is the secret workings of his own body.

You listen to his questions -- posed energetically and frequently interrupted by excited laughter -- and you think No, Gary, no!

Most of us would prefer our scale's number never saw light of day, much less light of database.

At some level, Wolf knows this. He theorizes that the impulse to self-track is one part available technology, one part geeky, data-driven personality. So far, only 10 people have RSVP'd affirmatively to Quantified Self's first meeting, which is scheduled to take place mid-September. "This is," Wolf says, "probably a very small subset of humanity."

There might be a broader audience than Wolf thinks. When Chicago Web designer Heather Rivers first launched menstruation tracker Mon.thly.info, she hadn't planned for the site to be anything more than a simple reminder application: Pack tampons tomorrow ! e-mailed to each of the site's 4,000 subscribers the day before their periods were expected to start. She designed a clean, minimalist look for Mon.thly.info. User-friendly, she thought. No fuss.

"But I started getting so many e-mails," says Rivers. Things like, "I want to track exactly the minute my period started." Things about weight, and diet, and feelings. People seemed obsessed with tracking how they felt, Rivers says. "I'd get messages saying, 'I really want to be able to post a note saying I feel crappy right now.' "

"I wonder if it's the same people who take a picture of everything they eat and post it online," she muses. She finds the impulse perplexing. But to please her subscribers, she's begun an overhaul of Mon.thly.info. The new version will have bells and whistles and notes and mirrors, all the better to see yourself with.

Don't Dismiss the Data

Why?

For what possible reason would otherwise sane people dedicate brainpower and man-hours to charting experiences at which they themselves were already present?

And not meaningful things, either. Not things like, "Proposed to future wife at 7:02 p.m., Aug. 15, 2006," but things like, "Ate three green beans at 7:02 p.m., Aug. 15, 2006." And not just occasionally, but lots of times every single day, gobs and gobs of binary data representing everything from the last time you slept past 10 a.m. to the song you were listening to at noon last Oct. 12.


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