Introduction: How Friends and Strangers Can Make Us Healthier

8 Sep

Q: What happens when Quantified Self meets Online Communities and Social Networks?

A: The people around us, both friends and strangers, make us healthier and happier.

It’s getting a lot easier to track our health-related states (weight, blood pressure, glucose, moods, disease symptoms, etc.) and our health-related behaviors (smoking, food intake, drugs and medications, exercise, sleep, etc.) Reflecting privately on our traces can help us make good judgments (e.g., deciding whether to exercise in the morning or at night to improve sleep?). Reflecting privately on our traces can also help us make behavior changes that are hard to stick with (e.g., eating less; stretching regularly).

Selectively sharing some of these traces can be even more powerful than reflecting on them individually. It can help us make better judgments about medicines and other treatments to try, by learning from other people’s experience instead of just our own. It can provide inspiration, accountability, support or reminders that enhance our personal behavior change efforts. And it can provide psychological support that reduces anxiety, relieves loneliness, and buoys spirits, thus directly enhancing well-being even without any changes in treatments or behaviors.

Not all sharing will have such positive effects, however, and that’s what makes this space so ripe for experimentation. There are lots of clever innovations out there that test different points in the design space, sending and receiving different kinds of information with different people.

In the coming months, I’ll be writing about this exciting space. I’ll start with summaries of a few projects that my colleagues and I have done, and then proceed to other people’s published research and examples of emerging products and services. I’ll be categorizing them by themes, including some of the keywords that I’ve highlighted in this post, and others that may emerge over time.

Please comment or email me with suggestions of products and services. I don’t mind getting multiple pointers to the same thing, so feel free to tell me about things you think I may already know about.

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