At the recent Quantified Self Meetup in San Francisco, four talks especially interested me.
The first was by a woman who has been making scrapbooks about her life for a long time. She now has nineteen volumes. They contain the usual scrapbook stuff (photos, ticket stubs, drawings — she’s a designer — newspaper clippings, receipts, and so on) plus her design work and her medical records. They help her remember her life. “I look at them so I won’t make the same mistakes in relationships,” she said. “How’s that working?” someone asked. It’s a lot of work and she’s now three months behind. Her talk was about what sort of computer tool would make the whole thing easier. It made me wonder why woman scrapbook so much more than men. My earlier post about scrapbooking didn’t answer that question. The whole thing reminded me of Jill Price:
At the age of 10, Price began to keep almost daily diaries, which she then saved â€” thousands of pages filled with her impossibly tiny handwriting.
The curious thing about Price’s diaries is that her memory is so astonishingly good that she can remember her past in great detail without them. Apparently she kept such detailed diaries because of her great memory or both have some common cause.
The second was by a man who had recorded his daily activities in detail for five years. A graph showed that he had a free-running sleep cycle: He went to sleep slightly later each day. At certain times he’d be awake at night and asleep during the day. He started keeping these records because he was washing his roommates’ dishes a lot and wanted to see how much time it was taking. (Much less than he thought, it turned out.) I asked what he’d learned from his records. The sleep pattern, he said. Someone told me he must have meant the regularity of the pattern. His records had no obvious value so again I wondered: What’s the evolutionary reason? He enjoys keeping these records. Why? In some ways it’s a male version of scrapbooking: You can’t easily show it to someone (in line with male lack of communicativeness), but, like a scrapbook, it’s a long-term record of random stuff that helps you remember what happened.
The third was about a startup called Skimble. Maria Ly and her partner have created a web app to keep track of your outdoor activities, such as climbing and kayaking. She does a lot of climbing and the app started as a way for her to keep track of it. She used to be an engineer at Google. This seems promising because she was trying to solve her own problem, not someone else’s. Apps to help other people self-experiment don’t get very far, in my experience.
The fourth was a kind of combination of the first three. Robin Barooah wanted to meditate more. His bouts of meditation last a half-hour or more, so it wasn’t easy. After a retreat, he started meditating more but the effect wore off within a month or so. His talk was about an iphone app for tracking his meditation. After he started using it, about a month ago, he’s been achieving his goal of regular daily meditation better than ever before. It reminds me of a University of Colorado engineering professor who stopped binging on ice cream as soon as he forced himself to keep track of what he ate.