We are constantly being monitored. Frequent shopper cards mean that grocery stores know what we’re buying. Our activity on Facebook determines what ads we see. And if we run a red light, or speed, traffic cameras capture it. Well, Denver IT professional Chris Dancy figures if companies and governments benefit from monitoring us, there’s no reason we shouldn’t benefit ourselves. Dancy’s a pioneer in the “quantified self movement.” He tracks virtually everything about his life, with the help of sensors on his body and throughout his home. Dancy speaks to Ryan Warner.
Read about Dancy in Wired Magazine.
[Photo 1: Chris Dancy. Photo 2: Screenshot of how Dancy's visit to CPR made him feel]
Ryan: It’s Colorado Matters from Colorado Public Radio, I’m Ryan Warner. We are constantly being monitored. Frequent shopper cards mean that grocery stores know what we’re buying, our activity on Facebook determines what ads we see, and if we run a red light or speed traffic cameras may capture it.
Denver IT Professional, Chris Dancy, figures if companies and governments benefit from monitoring us, there’s no reason we shouldn't benefit ourselves. Dancy is a pioneer in the Quantified Self Movement. He tracks virtually everything about his life with the help of sensors on his body and throughout his home.
Chris, thank you for being with us.
Chris: Thank you, Ryan. Nice to be here.
Ryan: What sensors are you wearing now and what are they tracking?
Chris: I’m wearing five sensors right now. They’re tracking everything from my movement to my sleep, to my heart rate, to my location, and then obviously really simple things like my weight, skin temperature, blood flow.
Ryan: Do they ever get uncomfortable?
Chris: No, no. Hopefully in the future they get more comfortable.
Ryan: I also understand that you have sensors throughout your home as well, it’s not just your person. Describe some of those.
Chris: All the things I use at home are basically things you could buy at the mall, so nothing I’m wearing or nothing I’m talking about can’t be acquired by, you know, a teenager going to Cherry Creek. In my house, I have motion sensors throughout the house so I know when I’m in certain areas of the house. I also have ambient noise sensors around my home office, so if my voice gets above a certain decibel, or if I’m listening to music at a certain level I record automatically those things so that I could tie them to other events, so I understand if I’m with someone or talking to someone literally how they make me feel. Along with the body sensors obviously picking up the other things we talked about, these are home sensors.
Ryan: Right, the heart rate would go along with that.
Chris: Skin temperature first changes before heart rate. And the lighting in my house is on a system called [Hue], so it’s like when you think of home automation except I can set the mood of the room.
Ryan: So you aggregate all this information? The point is there are many, many streams and is it that you’re coming up with one clear picture of who you are, what your problems are, where you could improve.
Chris: Yes. I use this concept of “low friction data collection” so I can’t take a lot of work, that's the idea, or I can’t be walking around, writing things down all the time or I'll get nothing done.
Ryan: Right. You have a full time job in IT?
Chris: I try. The idea with low friction data collection are all of these systems collect information in a central repository. So if you look at my calendar it’s like anybody else’s calendar...
Ryan: You use a Google calendar?
Chris: Exactly, it’s a Google calendar. I have lots of different calendars, but all of these events stream into that calendar automatically and what I did was I color-coded ten different areas of my life that I collect information on, and created a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs on my calendar so I can understand, you know, my spirituality versus my spending, my eating versus my knowledge work, my environment versus my entertainment consumption.
Ryan: I have seen a screenshot of your Google calendar.
Chris: Oh, good. Excited.
Ryan: And it looks like someone who’s in ten meetings at once.
Chris: Hundreds of meetings at once.
Ryan: All throughout the day. You talked about your spirituality, how is that measured?
Chris: Physically, through things like a heart rate monitor or an Emotiv headset which captures EEG ratings, or [Zeo] when you sleep.
Ryan: So you’re monitoring sleep as well?
Ryan: This is happening in your non-waking hours.
Chris: Yes, I wear even more sensors when I sleep. But spirituality is very important to me in trying to strive to be mindful, to be here with you right now. And as I became in touch with my body and my environment, it became obvious to me that meditating was going to be easier for me now that I had the information and understand what it was, for someone like, “What is this parallel? What is this meditation?” and I actually understand it now at a data level, which allows me to enter into the state at will.
Ryan: I find it fascinating that you see a place where data and spirituality, or data and peace overlap, and I think that's probably what makes you different from a lot of people, right? I think a lot of people would react to measuring every aspect of your life and feel nothing but overwhelm. You feel...?
Ryan: Empowered. Peace in the knowledge?
Chris: Absolutely. It’s like being in the center of a tornado.
Ryan: You’re listening to Colorado Matters, I’m Ryan Warner. We’re talking with a Denver man, Chris Dancy, who uses sensors to monitor virtually every aspect of his life and this information is collected and he uses it presumably to make his life better. He’s really at the forefront of a movement known as the Quantified Self. Maybe give me an example of something you would adjust in your life based on the data you’re getting.
Chris: Absolutely. I've lost 51 pounds. You know, I noticed there were certain types of television I would have watched that actually made me eat worse. So actually anything sort of intelligent I've correlated to eating really bad food the next day, but watching reality TV I eat really healthy in the following days. There are all sorts of patterns that I was not aware of that are just outrageously interesting and fond to examine once you actually had the information to look at.
Ryan: This strikes me as a much broader version of what can be revealed when we look at our spending. I think there are a lot of people who when they see how and where they’re spending their money...
Chris: If I eat more junk food, my spending goes lower.
Ryan: Oh, you found a connection between...?
Chris: I track all of it, eating, spending... what I listen to. If I actually want to budget there are certain music in TV I have to avoid.
Ryan: Really? I think the point is that people are often surprised by what they spend their money on. They say, “These aren’t my values. My behaviors actually don’t match my values.” You’re bringing that to a new level.
Chris: Yes, and I like the concept of a social GPS. So I want to get to a state or to a way of life, and I think you can use the data to make those decisions and outdrive that. I would love to see something like, you know, a system where I could allow this data to be used to guide me toward a goal.
Ryan: Does anyone live with you?
Chris: Yes, I have a partner of 17 years, Doug.
Ryan: Doug. Is Doug driven crazy by some of this or does Doug embrace it?
Chris: I mean those are two different questions.
Ryan: Answer whichever you like.
Chris: No, that's fine. I think Doug is overwhelmed by it. I mean, he enjoys sharing the information about how I manage my life with his friends. And Doug wears a tracker for health reasons and, obviously, all the systems in our house he’s aware of, but he doesn't use the data quite like I do. Although I did tell him... can I give you a story about Doug in data?
Ryan: Of course.
Chris: Like a lot of people, he gets frustrated with certain people and events. And I said, “You know, why don’t you just track when you’re frustrated? Just write it down or use an app, like Mood Panda?”
Ryan: Mood Panda? Okay.
Chris: “Why don’t you just track when you have this? And then look at this and see if there’s a pattern to it.” And so, interestingly enough, he started tracking the types of people he went to lunch with, and his mood and how his mood the following few hours changed because of that, which helped him understand better how to optimize lunch.
Ryan: Who and perhaps who not to have lunch with.
Chris: Yes, exactly.
Ryan: I see. You know, I think that what you’re pointing out is that the distance between the average person and what you’re doing is not necessarily a huge difference.
Chris: No, we might wake up in the morning and weigh ourselves.
Chris: We might have a pedometer on. We certainly are tracking our schedules. The idea is, can you harness all this information and come up with something?
Ryan: It’s simple. How is this interview making you feel? You’re tracking yourself, how is your pulse?
Chris: My heart rate is 72.
Ryan: Is that good?
Chris: Yes, it’s pretty good considering I’m here with you, and light and everything.
Ryan: What would dipping my toe in this look like? Where would you start?
Chris: Gosh, I think the easiest place to start is where most of the devices are now which is health, and there are so many health devices that you can wear just being aware of something. It’s usually enough to create a course correction. Gosh, if you want to get started, just have a conversation with your family, especially your kids.
Ryan: There is an article about you in Wired Magazine. A lot of the comments on the string were very critical of you. You know, you’re crazy. I can’t imagine living this way. Let’s talk just in general about this movement you’re a part of, this idea of the Quantified Self. What would you say to the most skeptical person about how it might benefit them?
Chris: The most skeptical person.
Ryan: Or a skeptical person.
Chris: Yes. The data is being collected already and I think it’s up to each and every single one of us to decide if we want to be aware of it. I’m doing this because someone needs to have the conversation about the data that's being collected on us, someone needs to understand that there are choices we make every moment of the day when we touch anything that has a battery on it, that those choices affect us.
It’s like healthy eating. You know, we have no problem in our nation talking about healthy eating or a dialogue in diet. But when it comes to technology, I don’t see anyone having to dialogue about what’s important. Do technologies make you dependent or do they enable you? And that's really relevant and really important to me. Some people just don’t want to see that. They just want to see, you know, this tracker in person.
Ryan: Chris, before we go, you offered to send me an assessment of how you felt, how you did, a picture of yourself during this interview.
Chris: Yes, I just thought I'd send you the data so if you wanted to see what it was like to come and meet you today, and what it was like for the data of me, I thought I'd send that to you.
Ryan: Do you do that for other people?
Chris: If they ask. Sometimes it’s important for other people to understand contextually everything. If you just meet someone and they don’t know how their day went... there’s a lot of things you don’t need to know. But for some people, I think it helps put into perspective a level of trust that seems to be missing in humanity right now.
Ryan: Thank you for being with us.
Chris: Thank you.
Ryan: Chris Dancy is a technology specialist in Denver, who’s a pioneer in the Quantified Self Movement. You can see the record of his visit to our studio at cpr.org and there you can also read an article about him in Wired Magazine. We’d like to know what you track about yourself and what you learn from it. Head over to our Facebook page, CPR News, and share your thoughts.