Quantified Self Conference Recap

By / May 21, 2013 /

On May 11-12 I attended my first Quantified Self conference, in Amsterdam, along with my colleague @briandeweese. There were over 100 show-and-tell sessions, breakout groups, and talks to attend. The mind boggles. Or at least mine did. There were a few moments that stood out for me, which I will recap here, to the best of my jetlagged ability.


Gary Wolf and Ernest Ramirez get the party started

Gary Wolf and Ernest Ramirez get the party started

Gary Wolf asks: “Can there be a movement organized around questions?”

Gary Wolf opened the conference with an overview of the current state of the conversation around Quantified Self. It’s quite common to hear Quantified Self referred to as a movement. Is that true? A movement promotes a specific cause or outcome, whereas Quantified Self is all about asking questions:

What did you do?
How did you do it?
What did you learn?


It’s not the mission of QS to sell these questions to the masses, nor is it trying to sell itself on specific tools or practices. Rather, it’s an ongoing conversation and continued exploration. Wolf believes the conversation is becoming less about “big data” and more about “close” data: more personal, and less abstract.


Mood, Emotion, and Meaning

Jon Cousins and Robin Barooah

The first plenary session was a touching talk on mood-tracking, presented by Jon Cousins and Robin Barooah, both of whom have used self-tracking to help overcome mental health issues. I’ve written a more detailed recap of the talk here.


Town Hall: Memoto Experiment

By far the most heated discussion of the conference centered on the experience of wearing a Memoto camera and lifelogging others. I’ve detailed the main points of the discussion here.


What Makes Data Open?

Jan Peter Larsen, David Andre and Anne Wright

This panel discussion focused on the problem of sharing “open” data across multiple platforms. Data is proliferating with out clear standards or best practices for using and sharing it. David Andre posited that the first step to truly open data is to silo personal data in a separate bucket from the data that wants to be open. The lack of consistency across APIs, and poor standardization of time zone formatting makes working with open data problematic.


Lifelogging at Different Speeds

Cathal Gurrin and Buster Benson

Gurrin has been lifelogging with a wearable camera for years, capturing thousands of uncurated photos every day. Logging every single moment opens up possibilities for searching and analyzing images en masse, but leaves something to be desired in terms of reflection. On the other hand, Buster Benson shoots and shares a single photo at 8:36PM every day. While many of these moments could be considered banal, the photoset produces  an intentional document of his life, day by day. Benson wants to capture the moments he will cherish at the end of his life, which are often the mundane, beautiful occurrences of everyday moments.


BodyMedia breakout session

I made the tough choice of missing a show-and-tell session to attend the breakout session hosted by BodyMedia (a partner integrating with the Saga app). BodyMedia presented the case for pooling data, which can lead to insights serving the greater good. The group in the room was less interested in discussing the value of pooled data, and more interested in getting personal data out of services like BodyMedia. Quantified Self enthusiasts want raw data to play with.


Merel Brouns' year

Merel Brouns’ year

Merel Brouns

I love beautifully designed artsy craftsy things, so this was one of my favorite things at the conference. Merel Brouns is a graphic designer who handcrafted a visual lifelog of her year in 2011. This piece of art is 100 meters long when fully extended. She used decorative tape to represent people she spent time with, and added her own notes and drawings to illustrate her memories.


Memorable quotes:


“I don’t do the things I do because of who I am. I am who I am because of the things I do.”

– Mariusz Nowostawski


“Privacy is just a side effect of people not being connected.”

– Buster Benson

Categories: Lifelogging, Quantified Self

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