Wow, what a great conference! Last weekend (10-11th May 2014) the third European QS conference was held in Amsterdam. ‘A carefully curated unconference’, and let’s admit it, it’s true. This is the only conference where 250 people will enrol, and subsequently will create the contents of the conference themselves. And how! They share personal stories about self-experimenting, straight from the heart.
A few developments stand out since the first European conference in 2011. Earlier conferences mainly highlighted data collection strategies and tools (the Q of Quantified), this conference the spotlight was on mortality, memory and mindfulness (the S of Self). Mindfulness? Yes, for many self-trackers the actual moment of tracking makes them more aware of who they are and what they do. Securing relevant events in life helps experience them more intense. That this provides a stream of data, is merely a consequence, not a goal in itself. Unless the goal is to find patterns that you cannot discover with just your biological senses. Either way, to live mindfully seems to be the main focus in many experiments.
Something else that stood out is the increased quality of self-tracking experiments; the stories have become more outspoken, the quality of tools and methods used has increased and the interpretation of data has become more in-depth. The possibilities of n=1 as a research design and participatory research for population studies become more likely.
A group of attendees also reflected on criticism regarding QS as a movement. Data-fetishism, exhibitionism, autism and narcissism are just a few of the labels self-trackers are sometimes given. There might be a point in that, but there’s basically not a single self-tracker who takes the criticism seriously. The collection of data is not the main goal, it is a means to an end. The tools are an extension of your senses, at most, or the data serves as an extended memory. It is all about the learning experience, ‘learn by doing’. And this ambition to gain (self)knowledge hasn’t harmed anyone yet.
It seems like the QS community has slowly but surely reached the stage of norming (see Tuckman). Starting on time, active participation, reasoning from you own point of view, respect for your peers, lots of air and breaks in the programme but most of all lots of chats with each other to share experience. A social community that works constructively and uses storytelling to work on a new future for empiric evidence.
By Martijn de Groot