Evan Savage

Welcome to Quantified Savagery

I'm Evan Savage and I'd like to welcome you
to Quantified Savagery. I recently left my job at Facebook to focus on
exploring the
Quantified Self,
and I'm super-excited to share those explorations here on my new blog.

In this first post, I'll explain the Quantified Self, give you a sense of
what I'll be posting in the near future, and provide some helpful tips on
reading this blog.

What is the Quantified Self? #

I've had to explain this countless times to friends, family, and
co-workers: why did I leave
one of the world's best employers
to explore a field most people haven't even heard of?
I usually start by name-dropping
Fitbit or Nike+ as
prominent examples of personal data collection and analysis. I then do some
semi-coherent hand-waving about the vast potential of data collection and
analysis. All of this is really just an attempt to cover up the fact
that I don't really know.

That doesn't really cut it as an explanation for a major life decision,
though, so let's look a bit deeper.

The Quantified Self
community website has this tagline:

self knowledge through numbers

This is a good first-level approximation: you gather your data, analyze it,
and interpret the analysis to become more self-aware.

But why is this suddenly important? After all, journal-keeping has been around roughly as long as written languages. The answer lies in *technology*. {" For the first time in history, over half the world's population owns sensor-packed networked computing devices. "} We refer to these devices as mobile phones only by historical accident. In fact, they're really powerful tools for speeding up this process of gaining *self knowledge through numbers*.

As I said before, though, this is only a first-level approximation. There are
two main ways in which Quantified Self can achieve greater awesomeness:
Quantified Mass and Qualified Self.

Quantified Mass #

As Gary Wolf pointed out in his
interview with On the Media,
self-tracking doesn't lead to self-obsession but rather to group-awareness.
In asking our own questions, we find that these questions are important to
others as well. When many people gather comparable datasets to answer the
same questions, there's an opportunity to extract insights
that could benefit us all.

Scalable mass insights have massive power. Taking a 1% chunk out of the
American obesity epidemic might not sound impressive, but that's potentially
a $6 billion impact
on direct and indirect costs. And that's just in the United States, which
counts for a tiny slice of the global mobile userbase.

Many of the requisite data mining tools already
exist, but they're being employed to increase advertising click-through rates
by 1%. The engineers building these tools aren't indifferent to societal
problems; rather, the datasets to solve those problems largely don't exist yet.
Once they do, the quantified mass can start driving these massive-scale
incremental wins.

Qualified Self #

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

Our perception of life is rarely numerical. Much more often, it is visual,
auditory, tactile, or experiential.
The problem with data is that you can't
see or
feel them.
Even the best data scientists use
data only as a means of
telling a story.

Put another way, this awareness process starts with qualitative questions
and ends with qualitative answers. Data is the intermediate representation,
one we use for its unique ability to permit detailed analysis. Ultimately,
though, we're going to ask questions like

How can I improve my fitness?

and expect answers like

By finding training partners. By doing more engaging athletic activities. By setting aside regularly scheduled time.

We're going to need moral support. We're going to give and receive advice.
We're going to have conversations and tell stories about our personal
struggles with fitness.

These qualified aspects of self-awareness are arguably the most important
to us. Data provide a stepping-stone, something we can build upon
to address these aspects. By building systems designed for the qualified self,
we can bring the benefits of the quantified self to everyone.

Back to the Quantified Self #

That sums up why I'm so excited about Quantified Self: there really is an
enormous potential here to revolutionize our lives on both the global/societal
and individual levels.
It's also a fantastically diverse field, one that connects hackers and
doctors and entrepreneurs and teachers and artists through mutual pursuit of
insanely lofty goals.

Upcoming Content #

The next few posts will detail my experiences dealing with panic
disorder through self-tracking
. I gave a talk about this to the Bay Area
Quantified Self community, which you can
view here
for some initial context.

How To Read This Blog #

Although this is a blog about personal data, one of my primary goals is to
make the thoughts and insights shared here accessible to a broad audience.
You can filter what you read with these categories:

In addition, many of my posts will be connected to one or more experiments.
For instance, my upcoming posts on self-tracking to address panic disorder will
fall under the Panic category.
For every experiment, I'll attempt to post
content in both the
Non-Technical and
Technical categories.

Of course, I'll be glad to answer any questions you have, technical or
otherwise!