It was still dark when my alarm went off this morning; I was out on the trail running as the sun was coming up. A few years ago, I would have grabbed my iPod nano and headphones, my Nike+ SportBand (a USB device that fits into a silicon watch band), the accompanying sensor attached to my running shoes, and my phone, in case of emergency. After my run, I would pull the watch apart and plug the USB into my computer—assuming it was still working. Then, I could log into a website to synch my running information, goodbye sweaty paper register, scribbles and guesses. I had powerful technology on my side.
Today, all I need is my iPhone and Nike+ Running mobile app. The separate sensor, watch and music device have all been replaced by a product that does more than I ever could have imagined. By the time I finish my run, all of my stats will be broadcast to my friends on Facebook. GPS tracking will show me my course and exactly where I sped up and slowed down. I can geek out on the numbers, compare times, and try to strategize and motivate myself to do better.
Thinking back to what used to be involved to get a fraction of that information, I am amazed that I put up with all the hassle, but that’s the point—we adapt to whatever is required of us for a perceived benefit. When people talk about Quantified Self (the tracking and gathering of personal biometrics) and the future of mHealth (mobility + health initiatives), they often quickly admit that the technology may progress faster than our comfort level and outstrip the demand.
London-based jewelry designer and researcher Peta Bush believes that it all comes down to fashion. Her work investigating the Quantified Self movement pinpoints the social aspects and identity politics of wearing a device, for what she calls “people-centric health devices.” This is the frontier of fashion. Many have cited eyeglasses as a medical device that successfully made the transition to high fashion. Point taken.
All of the buzz from the top technology companies at this moment is about wearable technology—from Google Glass to Apple’s top-secret watch project. The interface is escaping the mobile device as we know it and will allow an unprecedented amount of information to be accessed. But the question is, are we ready? From smart diapers that test your baby’s poop to built in heart-rate monitors and more, how far can we push the technology and still offer a perceived benefit that outweighs the negatives—the inconvenience of awkward devices, the burden of forming new habits, information overload, and privacy concerns? Will these changes improve your daily life? How will you find yourself in the numbers?
For the moment, the greatest leaps in Quantified Self are happening just like the running app I mentioned above. I moved with the product as the technology migrated and grew. Many believe that mobile apps offer the greatest potential for immediate impact in the areas of mHealth and Quantified Self. The technology is already in your hand and, as more uses and functionalities are developed for mobile devices, the possibilities are endless. I’m already looking for a new half-marathon training app to develop a custom training program for me—I know that measuring my performance will push me further; there is power in the data.
Want to learn more about mHealth and the future of mobile? Join us for a discussion in Dallas as the Dallas iPhone Developers and Entrepreneurs partner with Health 2.0 Dallas for a special roundtable on these and other pressing concerns about the future of health and technology on Monday, October 21, in Dallas. Thanks to HL7 Standards for inviting me to their Tweetchat last week on Quantified Self and Angela Dunn’s excellent four-part article series.