Why the ‘Quantified Environment’ is essential for quantified self

August 8, 2013 | Posted in Quantified Self

The quantified environment

We in Britain love to complain about the weather. While other cultures might enquire about your family or your health, Brits will typically start a conversation with a meteorological observation, normally involving some permutation of the words “cold”, “wet” and “grey”. But now, the glorious sunshine that’s showering much of the country has led to complaints about the heat and humidity. In the UK, children aspire to become weather presenters.

The Brits’ masterful accounting of the weather highlights an interesting aspect about Quantified Self – environmental factors are an important part of the self-tracking experience. QS is fundamentally egocentric, but it’s not solely about quantifying our behaviour and activity, it’s also quantifying the external activity impacting us.

Weather is a key component of the ‘Quantified Environment’. Weather includes a host of parameters that affect us in several ways, both directly and indirectly. Rain in the morning means we might ride the metro into work, instead of a bicycle; a dry, low humidity day might have us reaching for the skin moisturiser; our sleep might suffer if an early sunrise floods our bedroom at 6AM; and the pollen count will determine whether a hay fever suffer spends the day smiling smugly or sneezing supersonically.

When designing Quantid, we saw support for weather as vital, and the app allows our users to easily track 11 individual weather metrics without requiring any manual data input. It’s all done seamlessly. Every day, the mobile app grabs your location and collects your local weather data from our meteorological information partner, feeding these measurements directly into your account. Metrics include sunrise time, precipitation intensity, cloud cover and humidity.

Playing around with the analysis tools on Quantid, I noticed an interesting correlation. During the recent heat wave here in London, I can see a relationship between the day’s maximum temperature and my number of ‘Awakenings’ as reported by my fitbit – higher temperatures appear to be causing more restless sleep. My duration of sleep does not seem to be affected, just my restlessness throughout the night. Armed with this insight, if we’re again blessed with 30°C temperatures, I’ll seriously consider buying a fan to help improve my sleep.

Environment is more than just weather – it’s everything in our surroundings which impacts us. Take noise for example. As I’m typing this blog, I have the drilling and hammering of my neighbour’s home renovation piercing my ears. For the past three weeks, they’ve been starting every morning at 8AM sharp, making a lie-in out of the question.

So how do we track noise on Quantid? Again, we take advantage of the fact that your phone is with you at all times. Mappiness is one of the several apps which Quantid supports. Personally, it is my favourite app for tracking mood because you configure it to randomly ping you throughout the day to rate you mood on a simple sliding scale. The cool thing about Mappiness is that as you make your mood rating, it also measures the level of background noise using the phone’s microphone. So, in addition to collecting your mood ratings from Mappiness, Quantid also collects your noise data.

I think the Quantified Environment is an exciting aspect of the QS movement, and there are a number of gadgets aiming to exploit the opportunity. Wimotos are tiny devices which you wear, or place around your property, for sensing temperature, humidity and light.  The Canadian company recently raised $115,000 in an Indiegogo campaign and is promising the products before year-end. And it’s only a matter of time before similarly small sensors report on environmental parameters like pollution, UV radiation and level of various fumes and vapours.

What are your experiences with tracking an environmental parameter? What insights did you gain?

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