What do we lose when we embrace our quantified self?

Fitbit image

Fitbit, capturing steps taken, calories burned and distance traveled. Makes exercise addictive with social and syncing capabilities.

Technology is integrated into our everyday life for many of us. For myself in the San Francisco Bay Area, it has become a cornerstone in our lives – an invisible tool that we depend on and take for granted until our batteries have drained out of our smartphone. Going out to eat, I’ve become reliant on Yelp before I eat anywhere. I don’t remember the last time I went to a restaurant without first consulting the Yelp reviews. For me as well as many others, it’s safe, comforting and easy to be able to embrace the best of technology and seek out only the experiences that others have rated as “good” – or avoid the ones that are bad, as the case may be.


But is there a chance that we start to lose something in an age of nearly boundless information? Are we forgetting, in our ultra-modern world, to embrace spontaneity and the unknown when we start to rely on technology every time we want to have a new experience? Do we lose part of ourselves or part of the intuition we used to cultivate before our smartphone was our #1 sidekick and we actually had to try out a new place to eat, or venture out on our own to find the best cafe or Chinese restaurant in town?


Comparing a near reliance on apps for restaurants, I see this as a possible reality as the healthcare apps and tools that are being developing become more advanced and pervasive in our lives.  I  have heard so much optimism over healthcare technology such as FitBit or SleepBot – new technologies and apps available on smartphones or devices that offer services for a fraction of the cost what only a year ago would have been many times more. These tools are truly impressive, and can help those who are suffering from conditions to better monitor their own situation, or those who are healthy to ensure that they stay that way.


Although I am optimistic as a consumer and as an observer of the qualified self movement, I’d like to mention the often overlooked side of this reality, to contradict the idea of the seemingly boundless benefits of technology: sometimes it doesn’t work. It has bugs, it breaks down, it runs out of battery. And sometimes, we need to trust our intuition on how we feel, which is a sensation that cannot always been cleanly measured and charted. We also need to make sure we don’t lose touch with ourselves – that the dashboards and trackers we have don’t obscure our own sense of ourselves.


Optimistic, yet cautious, I believe that we need to make sure while we’re heralding in an age of impressive healthcare technologies, the need to use our own judgment to know ourselves without technology still has merit.


Top 10 Things To Avoid While Traveling For Business

International travel to Singapore, Tokyo, London, Berlin, Lyon, Boston – among other places – has been one of the perks of my job within marketing. I enjoy travel, and try to take advantage of a two way plane ticket paid by my company for domestic and global meetings, adding in a day for leisure and sightseeing when possible.



A shot of Bruges, Belgium on a chilly November night. One of the places I managed to work into my itinerary during a business trip to Europe in 2011.


My former boss liked to joke that I would go anywhere for any trip – a statement that was not entirely true; thanks to the fact that pharma and biotech conferences are usually held in thriving biopharma hubs (and therefore techno-savvy cities), I have been sent to some cool places on business.


At the same time, there is a wrong and a right way to do business travel. You’ll make yourself crazy if you hit too many items on this “to avoid list”. I’ve put it together to give new travelers tactics on how to make business travel less painless.


(10) Jet lag: traveling west (from San Francisco to Philadelphia), I’ve needed to be strategic and account for jet lag. Traveling to Europe, I try to avoid those flights that arrive at 8 am (local time)! I have made this mistake too many times: a flight that leaves San Francisco during the day bound for Paris or Berlin landing at 8 am seems like a good idea, but is not. I always end up hitting a wall around 11 am… and then the day drags on forever.


(9) Too much alcohol: being hungover in all-day meetings or at a conference is not fun.


(8) Lack of a routine: not having any type of routine completely throws me off. I like setting boundaries for myself to know that I’m going to bed at a certain time, allowing me to wake up early and go to the gym even during a busy conference. This lets me continue some part of my normal life instead of each trip disrupting my travel.


(7) Red eye flights: these are such a trap: a red eye flight sounds so efficient. Instead of wasting a day to travel anywhere, why not just sleep through it? If you’re like most people, it’s impossible to sleep through noise, cramped seats and (sometimes) flight-long conversations.


(6) Not enough water: getting dehydrated is a bad idea, and can leads to headaches, sluggishness and overall grumpiness. Remember to hydrate when traveling!


(5) Luggage check in: even if going on a weeklong trip, challenge yourself to do carry-on only. I try not to check luggage unless I’m going away for at least 2 weeks. Too many lost luggage stories and delays at the airport. Challenge yourself to see how little you need.


(4) Lack of sightseeing / time spent outside of the hotel: getting out of the hotel is crucial. Even going on one tour makes me feel like the trip to a particular city was worth my while (when I traveled to Berlin, Germany in November 2012, I had terrible jet lag and didn’t get to see most of what I wanted to see – but I did go on an excellent walking tour of the city).


While in Frankfurt for a layover in November 2011, I stumbled upon the Occupy Frankfurt movement on my way to Goethe’s house. Even though I spent less than 24 hours in Frankfurt, I enjoyed seeing a few museums, dining at restaurants in town and getting a sense of the city.


(3) Lack of alone time: as an introvert, I’ve found I need to have at least one afternoon or a few hours of an evening to myself. The constant buzz of conferences and conversations with others is draining for me; being alone once in a while is nice.


(2) Lack of sleep: staying out too late and getting up early for multiple day conferences or meetings is so draining. If you can’t avoid during the conference, clear your calendar for the week days or weekends prior to the trip – this has allowed me to keep my sanity.


One of the desserts consumed by our group at a conference in Phoenix. Not recommended for every day consumption.


(1) Lack of exercise: business travels allows you (forces you) to eat out at every meal – which can lead to a week of high-calorie, high fat or sugar meals. Exercise can help to burn some excess calories when you can’t control where you are eating. Exercise also helps you to adjust to the local time zone, since it can help to tire you out.


Note that I lean slightly to the introvert perspective, which is why item 3 is very important to me; as an ultra organized live-by-my-calendar planner, item 8 is required. You might have the opposite viewpoint if you’re the gregarious, seat-of-your-pants type of personality.


How do you deal with business travel? Do you enjoy it, or do you find it stressful and tiring?

Feel free to share your comments below.

Designing health apps & Health: Refactored

Health 2.0 had its inaugural Health: Refactored event in Mountain View, spanning May 13th – 14th, 2013. As a volunteer at the conference I had the opportunity to experience a few of sessions myself, a fascinating conference and a great opportunity to learn more about health care systems and major trends within health and wellness from a technology perspective.


My favorite session of day 1 of the conference was a session called UI, UX and U: Designing for Health. This designer focused session featured moderator Doug Solomon, Fellow and former CTO of IDEO. Individual designers gave a short talk promoting their viewpoint and then Doug moderated a panel of speakers.



Jawbone’s Vice President: Aza Raskin – @aza

Healthagen’s Managing Director: Aaron Sklar – @aaronsklar

Frog Design’s Senior Interaction Designer: Alex Tam@AlexTam

IDEO’s Lead, Active Health: Gretchen Wustrack – @geewu


Doug kicked off the session by telling us his real nickname for the session: “Why Health Apps Suck.” Why do health apps suck, if supposedly health is so important, and there already is a growing industry around healthcare apps? Healthcare costs continue to rise, a ton of money is poured into health care apps, yet they suck.


Aza offered an answer to this question, mentioning that answering the wrong question or framing the question in the wrong way within the context of health care part of the problem. Additionally, he used the idea of collapse of civilizations as a comparison from Jared Diamond’s book Collapse to paint this picture: civilizations collapsed when they don’t feel the ramifications of their decisions, and health care apps often are designed by people who don’t feel the impact of the design decisions made within an app.


Gretchen’s main argument pressed on the point that we need to lead with love and integrate apps into people’s lives: an app shouldn’t feel like an additional step or a burden in someone’s life. The ultimate goal of the app, as mentioned in her closing statement, should facilitate conversation and communication between a caregiver and her patient.


Why do health care apps exist? Alex brought up this question, mentioning that health is something that people who aren’t sick take for granted and don’t notice until they have an issue. I personally agree strongly with this one; as someone who has been lucky enough to have an extremely healthy family, I hardly ever think about allergies, medications or health complications getting in the way of my own activities. Only when I’m forced home with the flu or get food poisoning while traveling do I start to think about tracking my own health. General health apps suck because healthy people don’t have a specific problem or reason to spend time on a health app, but people with chronic illnesses do.


Aaron’s answer to why health apps suck? Developing apps for the lowest common denominator results in sucky outcomes for technology. He advocates that, when at the beginning stages of developing an application, it’s important to understand what is important for a specific population.


Panelists did well in providing experiences and sometimes conflicting opinions – making for a dynamic talk. Final healthcare app tips included:


  • Understand the problem you’re trying to solve. Iterate on your product [Aaron]
  • The app should be used to facilitate conversations between caregiver and patient [Gretchen]
  • [As a designer or app developer] it’s important to show people you’re unfinished work. Invite people to add to what you are working on [Alex]
  • Empathy is so important. Talk to people. Talk to doctors – listen to their problems but ignore their [technology] solutions [Aza]


The question of “will Big Data massively alter health care?” is a given; the real challenge for designers remains in how to ensure that the technology connects patients and caregivers in a way that is meaningful, effective and personal.

Best of both worlds? Business and social responsibility.

Business and social responsibility – can you believe the two can both exist in a business setting? Yes, they can – and as of 2007, a growing number of businesses are aiming for a certification that can pretty reliably and thoroughly make this judgment call.


This past Wednesday, I attended an event at NextSpace (an awesome co-working space where my sister also happens to work) and saw a great presentation on benefit corporations – also known as B Corps.



Benefit corporation logo


B Corp status is a certification that a business can achieve on top of their regular business status and sees itself as a way to redefine business and provide a better framework to judge the success of an organization: instead of judging a company by the profits it makes, why not also take into consideration how it treats its employees, its effects on the environment and on local communities.


To become a B Corp, a corporation must pass high standards of :

– social and environmental performance

– accountability

– transparency


Certification is given out by a non-profit organization called B Lab.


In plain language, a B Corp is a corporation that doesn’t only think about the bottom line, but about the entire ecosystem of what it is impacting: the its employees, its stakeholders, the environment, the world. A variety of factors are taken into account to assess a corporation to see if it fits the high bar set for a benefit corporation.


Today, B Corps numbers around 750 – companies like Patagonia, Method, Ben and Jerry’s and King Arthur Flour are certified with B Corp status.




Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I see this as a movement to keep an eye on: as more well-known brands start joining, this will hopefully increase the standards and demand for such a type of certification by employees and consumers alike, eventually causing pressure for other companies to join in.


Are you familiar with the B Corp certification, or have you worked for a B Corp yourself? Judging from your own experiences at your company (B Corp or not), do you think this idea will gain widespread traction quickly?

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