4 January 2013

Fitness by design

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Can data heal? Yes, argues Dan Hon, whose type 2 diabetes spurred him to embrace “personal informatics” devices such as the Nike FuelBand and the Fitbit. Yet as such devices become a part of everyday life, a new challenge emerges: the Balkanisation of health data across multiple platforms.

“What isn’t clear is the design process of ecosystems to support passive, wearable devices that are intensely personal and mix-and- match. We don’t worry about fashion being interoperable, about wardrobe-archive issues, or being able to use a piece of clothing from five years ago with another bought last week. Increasingly, we will. So the kind of battles being played out around interoperability, data sovereignty and social visibility in personal informatics represent a kind of avant-garde as core issues of the “Internet of things”. The principles of the much-hyped “smart cities” market, for instance, are being tested right before our eyes, as personal informatics goes up against the obesity epidemic.

Yet we don’t know much about the psychological or cultural impact of learning so much about ourselves, of seeing ourselves through the prism of performance metrics, never mind displaying that in a public form. This is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of personal informatics: it lets us know who we really are, whether we wanted it to or not.”

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