Self-measurement should not make you a slave to your own data. Instead it ought to be the entry point into a virtuous circle that leads you to become more autonomous.

"Quantified Self Means Putting Info-tech to Work for the Individual"

Interview with Emmanuel Gadenne, Manager at Sopra Consulting and author of the book Le Guide pratique du Quantified Self (‘A Practical Guide to the Quantified Self’), published by FYP Éditions.

Do Quantified Self tools, which aim to improve one’s well-being, help fill a gap in healthcare provision?

I wouldn’t necessarily call it a gap, but these tools do provide an extra link in the chain. One might well ask why in France someone would wait several months for an appointment with a specialist in order to obtain qualitative data on his or her sleeping patterns, for example, when there are tools – some simple, some more complex – that s/he can use to get the same information. Some countries are ahead of others in this area. In other parts of Europe, in the UK for example, the National Health Service there advises doctors to prescribe healthcare applications to their patients. They even have a list of 500 recommended apps to choose from.

If people start using a host of sensors and tools to share and analyze their own data, isn’t there a risk that we’ll all turn into sort of high-tech hypochondriacs?

No, I don’t think so. It’s just a question of putting info-tech to work for the individual. Anyway, another name for ‘Quantified Self’ is ‘Personal Informatics’. For many people, it’s going to be all about benefitting from the kind of personalised, tailored advice they would get if they paid a personal coach. When you obtain data on yourself, analyse it, share it and discuss it with your peers, you’re setting out on the road to becoming autonomous.   The way this will all work has yet to be mapped out. But I don’t think that people will be swamped by numbers. At the end of the day, it’s always the user who sets the objectives and decides on the series of efforts s/he’s prepared to make in order to achieve them. The tools are there to help those who have set themselves a goal and need to work out where they stand vis-à-vis the goal.

You talk about data sharing. There again, it may be a question of culture, but French people don’t approach data sharing in the same the way as Americans, for example. Isn’t there a risk this might hold back some QS practices?

It’s true that even two years ago, QS was just for the ‘ultra geeks’. Now however we have equipment such as FitBit which is sold in high-street stores, and the situation is beginning to change. It’s up to the user to choose whether s/he wishes to share data, and with whom. If a tool is easy to use, more people will adopt it and the various practices associated with it will become acceptable.  The other thing I would say is that I believe Quantified Self goes hand in hand with data sharing. When you’re carrying out a project you need input from others. And with social networks, we’ve become used to divulging a lot of information about ourselves. Basically it’s quite clear that people have really wasted a lot of time on social networks. But now you can share data of greater added value, with people you choose, who find the data valuable and you can exchange opinions with them on qualitative aspects, such as performance overview, best practice, lessons learned and so on.