Since the beginning of 2009, he has run the equivalent of 39% of the way from Philadelphia to San Francisco and has driven 19% of the distance from the earth to the moon. He has eaten 792 eggs and burned 1,411 gallons of gasoline. He runs an 8.4 minute mile. His name is Michael Anthony.
Michael Anthony is a designer at QlikTech. Since 2009, he has tracked a variety of data points in his life. Why? "Just to see what would happen." Now it’s a habit. Prior to joining QlikTech he used to publish his findings in a digital poster he called his “personal annual report” (check out the poster version of his 2011 annual report).
Michael still publishes the posters. But when he joined QlikTech in 2011, he used QlikView to create an app he called My Life in Data (check it out on our demo site here). He now uses the app to drive his work on the poster — and the app is an experience in its own right. My Life in Data features personal data Michael collected during 2009, 2010, and 2011. You can find out how many times he’s washed his car, which months he tends to go to the movies, and what percentage of the time his lucky charm helps his home team win.
Believe it or not, Michael Anthony is not the only person who enters data about his life in a Google spreadsheet multiple times per day. In fact, a whole movement can be traced to a journalist named David Wolf who started publishing his thoughts about his personal data collection on his Quantified Self blog in 2007. There are thousands of people do this, for a variety of reasons. As Gary Wolf said in a 2010 TED video, “The self is just our operations center, our consciousness, our moral compass. So if we want to act more effectively in the world, we have to get to know ourselves better.”
I asked Michael Anthony whether he has derived any unexpected insights from collecting personal data and putting it in an interactive app. He said, “The surprising part is that when you aggregate the numbers and see them on the screen, they seem so large. And putting it in context really helps you visualize the numbers." Seeing the cold, hard data on the screen — and having something to compare it to (e.g., last year’s numbers) — can lead to insights powerful enough to change one’s behavior.
Between 2009 and 2011, Michael has increased the average number of miles he runs each day from .68 to 1.21. He consumed 91 fewer beers and 24 fewer soft pretzels in 2011 than he did in 2010. And he maintained a striking consistency in his consumption of apples. I look forward to his 2012 annual report, which will contain even more data points now that he is using a FitBit.
In the TED video journalist Gary Wolf said, “New tools are changing our sense of self in the world . . . [These tools] can be useful for self-improvement, self-discovery, self-awareness, self-knowledge.” Whether or not that was the intention Michael started with, it seems to be a result. Hats off to him; his ongoing quantified-self work is an inspiration to me, and hopefully will be to you as well.