One in five Americans has a wearable device, and the market is expected to triple in the next five years. It is estimated that by 2020, wearables will exceed 500 million shipments worldwide as over 35 percent of the population in mature markets will own at least one wearable electronic device. Judging by the Christmas presents of many around me, I’d say these predictions are already coming true.
Now let’s go beyond the numbers. As a relatively new user of wearable tech, one of the things I like most about it is that it enables us to be our own researchers. By tracking many aspects of our daily activity – steps, calories, sleep patterns, heart rates, hydration levels – we are supposed to live healthier, better lives. Unlike many generations before, we have almost unlimited access to enormous quantities of data about our bodies, the choices we make, our lifestyles. Thanks to wearables we might be able to “datafy” almost anything. That’s what I call Me Analytics.
No doubt wearable tech is a fascinating field to analyse and try to anticipate. While Silicon Valley is certainly in love with the concept of “quantified self,” a movement to infuse the self-monitoring of our daily routines through technology and data analytics, what about the rest of us? There has been a lot of hype around the benefits wearables can have – mostly for fitness or for health — but what does that really mean?
Let’s imagine a patient suffering from chronic diabetes. Wearing such a device, they would receive notifications each time their glucose level goes up or maybe if they haven’t hydrated themselves enough during the day. Let’s take this one step further and imagine that data about their condition, along with blood pressure, pulse and activity levels, gets delivered to their doctor before the next appointment. The doctor will be able to interact with personal data (beyond the mere description that a patient can provide from memory during a check-up), and will ultimately be able to prescribe more personalised recommendations that will optimize the patient’s daily life.
This might sound like a data scientist’s dream come true, but in practice we don’t need that much big data literacy since many of these devices are extremely easy to use and read. What we need is a readiness to make more data driven decisions about our bodies and our lives. That’s how I ultimately understand the value of Me Analytics, though we might not be quite there yet.
There are downsides as well, like trading our privacy, for instance. Also, in true Millennial fashion, tracking what we’re doing might become more important than what we are actually doing. I recently met with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long while. After catching up on recent events in our lives, we started comparing running metrics on our smartphones and that subtly took over the conversation. I only realized it later when reading an interesting piece in The Atlantic that suggested many runners fall for the “if you can’t track it, it doesn’t count” fallacy. Hip counter movements like “running naked” have already appeared. This trend involves deliberately leaving all tech devices at home when running so that they don’t get in the way of our experience in nature. We must be fair though and admit that these tech devices have caused a “running boom” to begin with.
So next time you’re about to make a shift in your lifestyle, follow a new diet trend or take up a new activity, give some time to analytics. By doing simple things like tracking vital signs, anticipating the best moment to buy a plane ticket or monitoring social media to identify trends, we’ve all become researchers.
Data did that.
Close-up on Maria:
Maria provides social insights through various research projects for IBM teams. Prior to joining IBM, she worked on social media, marketing campaigns and sales enablement for other global companies and public institutions. She also worked as a social entrepreneur, running an NGO that was focused on enabling young people through IT skill development. If you asked her, she’d probably tell you she sees her role as connecting the dots between content marketing, analytics and social media.
Fun fact: So far, Maria has lived in five countries across Europe. She can fill her backpack in less than 10 minutes, and use the spare time to rant on how important it is to travel light.