Privacy. We all want this at some point in both our physical and virtual lives. But increasingly, as the virtual world entices us to share every bit about ourselves with the world for better or worse we have to give the issue of privacy a harder look. While this post is not about the privacy matter directly, it is about an emerging trend that has a lot to do with privacy and personal information.
How much information about one’s self is too much? Well, for some, too much just is not enough. The more data about themselves they can collect, analyze and share the better. This sort of hyper-data collection at the individual level is turning the notion of Big Brother on its head and instead becoming Big Self. This trend is both interesting and potentially a little scary at the same time. As data collection becomes easier on our mobile devices, one can now collect a myriad of minutiae about your life. Several recent stories in prominehave covered this phenomenon. And I call it that because it is quite phenomenal.
Wired’s Johan Lehrer did a nice post over on ScienceBlog’s Frontal Cortex about this rise of the “quantified self.” He details some of his own experiments with this sort of data collection around wines and wine tasting. He also cites some other examples of how people have collected detailed information about their lives. Some of these people are using the data to make life improvements by noticing small changes that could not have been easily noticed if it were not for vigilant data collection of one’s actions.
Lehrer refers to the NY Times Magazine piece on this trend titled “The Data Driven Life” which goes into detail about examples from different people in different walks of life. The most extreme is Mark Carranzza who has kept an extremely detailed look at his life since 1984 when he was 21. The article also goes on to explain the range of different devices that are increasingly making it easy for people to track what the do with finer precision and with more parameters. Smart and embedded objects made in extremely small form factors allow this data to be gathered with less and less effort. GPS data loggers, miniature cameras, microphones and other devices to quickly capture snippets of information are proliferating. So what? Well, while this may seem like a terrific waste of time, it can also yield some very useful ways to see what sort of bad habits you are doing and how much time you are doing them. The Times article mentions one person who tracked his caffeine intake, gradually lowering it until he was able to quit. There are now various sites where you can track specific information about yourself – how much you eat, where you exercise, how you exercise, your travels, your heart rate, what you buy, where you eat, and even your moods. There is Kevin Kelly’s The Quantified Self site which tracks many of these projects and experiments if you are looking for ideas and just hankering to collect some data on yourself.
My question is how could this type of data collecting be used in education? Well, many ways come to mind depending on discipline, but I am thinking more broadly as a type of technology to help the learning process in general. In this day of endless distractions, perhaps doing some personal data tracking of how one studies, when do you study, with whom do you study, what time do you study, what is your mood, your energy level, etc. would be useful? As this type of information gets easier to collect, perhaps it can be put to use in ways that can help students improve their study habits one less distraction at a time. Perhaps the ultimate use for this type of information is to see with some granularity the patterns (or lack of it) in your life. The power is in the patterns, your patterns because what you do ultimately says a lot about who you are. Humans are interesting beings. By turning the data collection on ourselves, we may find out yet more that we did not know. And it just might surprise you.