With some interest, I’ve started following the quantified self movement recently.
In short, through the use of various technologies, tools and apps, you can monitor what your body is doing, and act accordingly. It’s gaining popularity, with products like Fitbit and Nike+ Fuelband. Along with services like 23 and me (genetic testing) is ushering in a new era where we can pre-empt illnesses. The trajectory is ramping up to a point (where I believe), there will be a product/device embedded in you that will know your body and track everything that happens.
As Paul Graham said in his post about “frighteningly ambitious startup ideas”, it just feels so incredibly obvious that this is where it will head. Along with wondering why we were allowed to drive pieces of iron at speeds we weren’t made to handle, I believe that in the future, we will look back and wonder: “So how did people stop illnesses and disease? When the symptoms arrived?! Wow. Backwards!”. A future I see, is a future where such a product is able to monitor your body and heal it whenever something is out of place. Sort of like a nanotechnological supplement for the immune system. We rely so much on other microbes in our body that isn’t “technically” us, another supplement will help.
Technology is not there yet, and the quantified self movement is rather nascent still in the mainstream. The problem I do see though that these types of devices will have to overcome, is the problem of people “knowing” what their status is. People don’t want to be privy to their mortality. It is echoed in a simple philosophical question: if you can know when you are going to die, would you want to know?
With stuff like 23 and me, you choose that gamble. Do I sign up and discover I’m predisposed to some types of cancer, or do I choose to live in relative (blissful) ignorance until the problem kicks me in the face? It’s not an easy answer, and I suspect people will only do it if there is some certainty and pre-emptive benefits of it. ie, don’t tell a person he has a 5% chance to get throat cancer. Don’t just tell them: tell them what they need to do, so they don’t need to worry.
So I suspect this is where the quantified self movement will have to go before it becomes mainstream. Before the “automated healing” step can take place, quantified self devices will need to tell us how to be healthier in a way that appeals to everyone. It’s an intermediate step before quantified self devices don’t even need to tell us anything: it will just keep us healthy. Although the automated healing idea is rather pie in the sky, the current slew of quantified self devices will need to take into account what is telling us so that it can have a beneficial effect to health.
Do you think this is true? Is the market of active quantified selfers limited at the moment due to this?