Wednesday 5 March 2014

Plan to move from #quantified self to Qualified self

My ultimate scientific breakthrough dream would be the Qualified Self in the analogy of the Quantified Self. The Qualified Self as a state of being, enabling to be a more qualified human. All the gathered data would gather data on: emotions, creativity, understanding, progress, personal character... data and characteristics that occur in most humans from all areas and backgrounds. And with Utopia on my mind, I would love to become a member of the Qualified Self movement, if this is a movement build on accepting the differences that we all have. It is a natural thing, each of our brains has neurons connected in different ways, nevertheless we all have emotions and maybe once the Qualified Self movement is at full speed and development, we - humanity - will realize we are all just the same as we are all different, and that is a good thing. War would end, conviviality will be natural, equality in difference will be achieved for all genders, races, and abilities. And while achieving this, we will have learned from each other, from the qualified data that will be available and from the actions we must all undertake in order to reach all the benefits coming out of the qualified data and establish a society that is prosperous.

Maybe this sounds a tiny bit unrealistic, but hey, it might happen! So here is my plan!

Quantified self as a starting point
So I am looking at what is available (quantified self), and build upon this to start the qualified self option.
With Big Data pushing its way into every niche of society, one of the more individually lived experience with big data is the Quantified Self (QS). The quantified self movement is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person's daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical). Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors (EEG, ECG, video, etc.) and wearable computing, is also known as lifelogging (Wikipedia, 2014). The quantified self movement proclaims that the data will ensure a better (physical) world for everyone. Who knows, the ideas and hopes of the Quantified Self will be realized: better health for all (e.g. Ari Meisel who learned how to control his Crohn's disease through the use of data), a better sleeping pattern for all (for those interested in tools look at this list, or the tools provided on the QS website (one section is on mood)), or in general getting a better understanding of the human physical body and world.  But at the end of the day it is just quantity, it is not about Quality and to me

My quantified life as a diabetic
As I am a diabetic type 1 (insulin dependent) I have a bit of experience with logging some part of my physical being. With an average of measuring my blood sugar 6 times a day, I track my blood glucose. I did use a continued glucose meter (CGM) in the past, and the constant, live streaming detail surely made my life easier keeping track and understanding the impact of various food intakes. But as the CGM was quite expensive, I switched back to strips and blood sampling to keep on top of my blood-sugar levels. Does this measuring improve my life? Yes, it surely does. And this results in a better quality of life as well, but ... measuring physical data only goes so far. I am more than my body, I am mind. So I want to understand more.

Shifting from quantity to quality
There is also an interesting development based on statistics coming from the Quantified Self embedded in the professional workspace. One such example is Fitbit data, a Japanese experiment to map workplace relationships (professional relationships that is) by providing pedometers to workers and analysing the data coming from those pedometers.
And although efficiency sounds wonderful, it does not necessarily align with the thought of life's quality. And it is that quality of life I am interested in. For let's be honest, if technology keeps moving forward, automation will take over most jobs as accounted by many articles and experts, and in the end we - as a society - will have to rethink work, financial transaction, leisure time and getting

Setting up first trial for qualified or qualtified self instrument for measuring learning
So the first step I want to take to make use of the technology for a more qualified self improvement, is to build a mobile research instrument that measures learning. I need it, as I am investigating all the factors that influence self-directed learning in MOOCs for learners using multiple devices and engaged in individual/collaborative learning. I hope to come up with a mobile app that will make it easier for the learners to share their learning track and ... keep track. I know there are personal learning lockers out there, but still I want to see what I can come up with, ideally something so simple it becomes beautiful (quality yes).

Stephen Downes added a more appropriate word for the instrument: the qualtified self. I can see this as a next step between quantified self and qualified self, and due to the human difficulty to surpass the wish/need/capacity for metrics instead of matrix.

A critical lens on the quantified self
After doing some initial exploring, I stumbled upon an article with solid critique on the challenges of the qualified self as it is designed now. The article was "A dream of a feminist data future", a great essay written by Amelia Abreu in whch she puts wonderful, intelligent questionmarks on each step of the quantified self movement saying that Women’s lives have been subjected to quantification for decades, and how this is not always for the good of womankind. Amelia takes the reader through history of data handling (mostly a women's job at first) and puts an important factor into the equation (also raised in software development): "The Quantified Self movement searches for universal points and scores and payoffs, but doesn't acknowledge the systems behind how those are valued, who chooses them, what they mean, and who they leave out -- often the already overlooked and marginalized, like caregivers and other low-wage workers."
Amelia concludes with the question whether "we can ever reach a point where sensor technology and data-mining can be accessible and successful, flexible enough to be genuinely empowering, allowing users to control their own narratives".

So Amelia's article provides me with an additional point of interest. Will try to honor it and find an empowering angle to my app, at least it will be used to track learning, which to me is part of anyone empowering themselves. As always ideas are welcomed and joining hands are appreciated. 

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