Building a Memex by Andrew Louis

The Memex vs Quantified Self

The term “Quantified Self” (and the motto of “self knowledge through numbers”) sometimes conjures up images like this:

I’ve stopped using the term to describe what I’m doing because people start arguing about the futility of reducing a life down to numbers without realizing that I already agree! After almost seven years of religiously tracking everything from food/drinks, to sleeping, to mood and stress levels, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to find any surprising correlations or lessons from the data beyond things I know about myself already (of course I should sleep more or drink more water!). I’m much more interested in building an incredibly powerful journal where personal metrics act as metadata around memories and experiences.

When I mentioned the above to someone this week, they recommended I check out the work of Sara Watson who spent a lot of time researching the Quantified Self community as part of her Masters studies. She interviewed many people in the community and summarized her findings in her thesis which I read this week. What I found most interesting was her enumeration of the different motivations individuals have for working on Quantified Self projects.

Here are a few metaphors for how people see their relationship with their personal data:


I put together a prototype of using data from the Memex to automatically populate calendars that can be imported into Google Calendar or iCal. Here’s what a slice of a day looks like with data from a few different calendar feeds:

I can take any query of the timeline (such as verb:ate or provider:twitter) and turn it into a calendar feed. Pretty exciting!

But, there’s a big problem with Google Calendar: it doesn’t update external calendars frequently, sometimes taking more than 24 hours to update. Here’s seven years of complaints on Google’s Product Forums about this issue. Clearly, Google isn’t in a rush to fix this. Stale calendars will be frustrating for users and the better solution might be building calendar entries immediately through the API. For OSX’s Calendar, things work fine and presumably other calendars systems refresh feeds frequently as well.

I’ve been in Montreal for the weekend which is an urban paradise in the summer. I’ve prioritized being outside over writing about more topics in this week’s newsletter.