quantifying sex, dating & disease

By Leslie Ziegler

Go ahead. Giggle at the article Sexual Activity Tracked by FitBit Shows Up in Google Search Results (discovered by Rock Health mentor Lee Byron). Then reflect for a moment on the huge potential of that data, even just in the world of online dating. Could sites cross-match their profiles with FitBit’s, allowing users to find those with compatible sexual styles and levels of vigor? How about determining if two people’s devotion to physical activity (other than in the bedroom) aligns–not just through self selected answers, but through the use of real data? “I like long walks on the beach.” Oh yeah? Show me your FitBit profile.

If the quantified self movement has the means to radically affect things as seemingly frivolous as truth in online dating, just imagine what it could unlock when applied to patient care and tracing the origins and causes of disease. Hard core quantified selfers already have a glut of self recorded information, and the movement will only continue to grow as the techie generation comes of age, data storage costs spiral downward and cool new gadgets and platforms proliferate. The missing piece seems to be how this non-clinical but relevant data begins to integrate with our health care system and research.

Crohnology, one of Rock Health’s start ups, is a patient-to-patient forum for those with Crohn’s, colitis and other forms of IBD. Similar to Patients Like Me, it allows users to track and share their treatments, food sensitivities, histories and daily health in the hope of creating sense out of these diseases, many of which have no known causes. Crohnology’s founder Sean Ahrens built it out of his needs as a Crohn’s patient, and in response to the frustrations of others in the community. These platforms have enormous potential for researchers and pharmaceutical companies as a source of crowdsourced feedback around the efficacy of medications and in finding commonalities in those who have the disease. As a fellow IBD sufferer, I experience the annoying symptoms, and also have to live with the knowledge that its origins and causes are completely unknown. I’ve often questioned what I could have done differently or if anything could have prevented it, but do not have a detailed enough record of my childhood health and habits to draw any meaningful conclusions.

Companies like Curious give me hope that we’ll start to find some answers. Curious is another Rock Health company building an open platform for people to experiment with and look for patterns and correlations in their own tracked and static data coming from a variety of sources, both personal and environmental. It has the potential to reveal patterns that would have previously gone undetected, but in aggregate, might bare the secrets of everything from diseases that until now have been impossible to trace to how the environment might affect your mood. They believe it will attract not only the quantified self community, but anyone who wants to make sense of the flood of information in their lives.

Hopefully, the medical world will begin to find ways to cross pollinate with these highly motivated, always on and always tracking techies. And in the meantime, perhaps the more nimble online dating world will start enforcing a little honesty through real-time data.