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Narcissism and personal data: a future of less sleep and more sex.

by Nextness published September 19, 2012 posted in Data

 Photo from fashion blogger @CarolinaEngman
Today’s guest post is from Athan Didaskalou (@ath), Strategist at DT Digital.

Narcissism. [narh-suh-siz-em] {noun}

Excessive interest in or admiration of oneself.

Narcissism usually has negative connotations. However, I see it as a positive. Loving thyself means knowing more about thyself. I look at people like Nicholas Felton who use their fascination with themselves for good, for betterment, for data.

There is a trend these days of collecting information about web users. In other words, you. And you can be assured that your favourite websites do this— Amazon know how many times you read that sex scene in your e-book version of 50 Shades, ASOS learn that targeted emails about specific products you like trigger you to click more, and of course Google get whatever they can get. Companies are constantly looking for new ways to quantify the actions of their users. The adage of ‘knowledge is power’ has never been truer.

Not too long ago, when most things were analogue, such measurement didn’t seem to be possible. But now that we’ve moved to a digital lifestyle, everything is open to the opportunity of being measured – we are capturing data from any action we do in an attempt to quantify all things in our lives.

But what do we do with these tidbits of self-absorbance? We end up collecting a constant trickle of detailed knowledge about ourselves only to find that we don’t really know what to do with it. We pride ourselves on the ability to look at big data sets and understand trends on scale, but what do we do with the data based on a sample of n=1?

Forget “big data”; all the juicy stuff happens at ground level.

The big one this year: Nike FuelBand. As a mate puts it, “seriously, it’s the most f*ing over hyped pedometer ever”. He’s right. But why do we love it so?  It feeds our hunger (note: obsession) for knowledge about ourselves. No one knows your body like you do, yet you still don’t know as much as you would like to know, and you never will. We’re drawn to knowing our outputs.

We want to be able to measure and define what has previously been instinctual. The rise of personal measurement apps is a testament to this. This, and this, and this are great examples of what’s happening right now in personal data measurement. One of the best examples of a company capitalising on the trend is Withings. They created self-measuring blood pressure tools and smart weight scales that all connect to the internet and offer a unique way to monitor and adjust your data for the betterment of your health. This is only the tip of the infographic. In Canada, they have apps that gamify pain monitoring for young cancer patients. But my favourite is a start-up in San Fran. that has coined their developments as “the API for the bloodstream”.

The well-being of our bodies today is thanks to the medical advancements brought about by R&D and technology. New cancer drugs, better scanning machines, mobility tools, etc. We’re using the density of the web to help some of the best scientists in the world fold proteins. Things look bright for medicine and tech. However on the individual front, we’re subjected to smaller tools to assist in diagnosis and betterment, and overall innovation in this domain has gone down the path of PPC (I’m looking at you, WebMD).

Optimisation: a series of trial and error.

An opportunity lies not within a diagnosis given based on the subjective inputs we give it, but by collecting data on our habits and testing what does and doesn’t work with our bodies. Everyone is different, and often require different solutions to the same problem. A classic example of this is asking the question “How much sleep do you need?” Some tell you a solid 8 hours, others will have you believe that less is more. The crux of the question is that there is no right answer. We can judge it by a lifetime of how we feel when we do one thing over another, but there are so many variables to factor in that most of us don’t know the optimal amount we need. We use trial and error to attempt to solve it. The next step in our evolution is to self-optimise through the utilisation of personal data.

Testing data like this is likened to A/B testing our bodies; we understand the cause and effect of everything we do, every little thing we consume, to make sure we function efficiently and effectively. In a world of personal data, we can find out what sleep patterns can make us day ninjas, which household chores release the most endorphins, and which foods act as the most efficient aphrodisiac! (I’m ahead of the curve – I’ve found it to be oysters). The practice exists already. Elite athletes have doctors, physicians and dietitians on hand to analyse every movement and morsel in their lives to determine their optimal approach. The next wave of medical technology to the masses is about the democratisation of personal data tools that give us the ability to understand and learn from ourselves.

This type of self-optimisation is what will be the most exciting surge in the next few years. How will it affect relationships? Our workplaces? Our insurance premiums?!

Medical tools on a personal level already exist. Recording personal data is already an emerging trend. The opportunity lies within making them both relevant by giving us the data on a personal level, and providing us with the tools to learn and optimise the data collected for our individual needs.

To better ourselves through data is seeing narcissism have the positive spin it deserves. But until then, stick with the oysters.

Athan Didaskalou (@ath) is a Strategist at DT Digital who’s been known to take his top off to pitch ideas to COOs. This post first appeared on the excellent DT Digital blog.

 

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