Quantified Communications: How Self-Tracking Geeks Will Change the Communications Industry
By Peter Zandan, Global Vice Chairman at Hill+Knowlton Strategies
I will host a panel at SXSW Interactive 2013 on March 10th called, “How Self-Tracking Geeks are Shaping our Future.” I will be joined by three speakers with leading knowledge of self-tracking: Lisa Kennedy, CMO of GE’s Healthymagination Initiative, Sonny Vu, founder and CEO of Misfit Wearables, and Gary Wolf, contributing editor at Wired and co-founder of the Quantified Self.
The Quantified Self
Self-tracking was formalized as a movement five years ago when Wired Editors Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly founded the Quantified Self blog, which enables makers and users of self-tracking tools to collaborate around the globe. The community consists of people who are interested in getting to quantitatively know themselves through tracking activities and deriving insights from the data. As the movement has grown, more tracking devices have emerged to measure the seemingly immeasurable – right down to amino acid levels. Today, thousands of people around the world follow the Quantified Self blog, organize meet-ups, connect, and share experiences in the quest for “self-knowledge through numbers.”
The self-tracking movement has gained momentum because of:
1. Sensor availability – Many human biometric sensors are much smaller than a dime and cost less than $1.
2. Big data analytics – Data traffic will increase by a factor of 50 in the next few years, and most will be video.
3. Smartphone adoption - By 2016, there will be more smartphones than people– a total of 10 billion.
Self-knowledge of our own communication style is in its infancy. We lack analytics around what makes a person a skilled speaker. As a result, communications professionals and researchers have to make qualititative assumptions about the most effective way to communicate. This will change.
Quantified Self and communication intersect when we put data analytics around our speeches and presentations. We could improve as speakers by analyzing word choice, sentence structure, tonal amplitude, and pitch, among other qualities. The communications professionals who help lead this trend will have a clear competitive advantage.
Trend or Fad?
Like any new idea, there are supporters and skeptics. Some people argue that self-tracking takes away from time better spent enjoying life. Notably, Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter attacked the movement for this reason. “The thing is,” Carter wrote, “all that time you spend logging and then curating the quotidian aspects of your daily life is time taken away from actually doing things.” Privacy is another common concern among skeptics.
But the reality is that people are self-tracking. A recent poll from Pew Research found that over two-thirds of Americans record information about themselves or a loved one to track health indicators. If you take a look at the shelves at an Apple Store or Best Buy, you’ll find more evidence that companies are taking note of demand for these kinds of devices. With smartphone adoption, increasing data availability, and advancements in sensor technology, self-tracking will only get easier as tools become cheaper and more prevalent.
Humans strive to improve their lives; self-knowledge is the foundation of that goal. The research capabilities that were once exclusive to laboratories and scientists conducting experiments are being dispersed to all of us.
The Quantified Self movement offers the potential for disruptive change in how we quantitatively know ourselves and the world around us.