Can the Quantified Self Save the World?


We live in a connected world that’s constantly creating new tools for self-improvement. According to Flurry, the average person spends over two hours a day interacting with mobile applications—and that number is quickly going up. Whether we’re counting our steps with FitBits and Fuel Bands, getting medical advice through HealthTap or even calculating our sleep quality with SleepCycle, applications are changing the way we live; making us more connected and our behavior more quantifiable than ever. We track our diets, fitness habits and leisure activities, but we’ve dropped the ball when it comes to another vital component of our lives—charitable giving. Combining the rich catalogue of information available with the dollars and cents of giving is the next step to accelerating our ability as humans to better ourselves and the world around us.

Feedback and recognition are critical when working to improve oneself. Fitness applications and trackers provide perhaps the clearest example of how the convergence of technology and behavior provide feedback to improve well-being. These fitness trackers can measure the number of steps, calories burned, and hours of active movement to motivate people to run faster and train longer. Whether it’s that little extra reminder to take the stairs or to walk a few extra blocks to a different Starbucks, constant monitoring helps individuals to see just how quickly the little things can add up. The end result is a healthier, more athletic lifestyle. But, let’s take this one step further with social networks like Instagram and Facebook. Both give us feedback through the simple action of “liking.” Studies have shown that this instant gratification or show of support helps us to accomplish our goals in part by releasing oxytocin, a hormone associated with happiness. Feedback from others on social networks also impacts what applications we use to accomplish our objectives. Quantifying our actions isn’t just informative—it transforms how we behave and encourages us to achieve our goals.

Despite being able to quantify everything from our interests and relationships to our physical health, there are few ways to measure giving beyond dollars. In order to bring our connected lives full circle, we need to recognize the work we do for others. Applications are starting to bridge the gap by allowing corporate partners to sponsor workouts so that users can raise money for charity simply by exercising. But what about the individuals working at a bake sale or cleaning up cages at animal shelters? Science has already indicated that giving makes people happy, but in order to bring the lives of volunteers and fundraisers full circle, we must give them a new way to measure their work.

So, how do we take all the good we do and make it part of the quantified self? The data—miles walked, number of charities helped, hours volunteered, dollars raised—exists, but it is too spread out and cannot be used in its current form to effect change. We need to tap into existing digital resources to provide people with the support they need to make giving a seamlessly integrated part of their daily lives. By quantifying and understanding the greater impact of your activities and seeing how many people you’ve connected and touched, you’ll continue your efforts and inspire others to get involved.

Apps are a way to hone our best skills and become the best possible self we can be. We’ve already seen the results tracking our activity can have on everything from weight loss to expanding our social lives. Now, it’s time to incorporate our charitable contributions—both financial and otherwise—into our connected, mobile lives. The people who are dedicating time and effort to making the world a better place deserve the same acknowledgement and sense of community that self improvement apps provide. By tapping into these existing tools, we can provide the feedback that’s currently missing from the digital world. Giving and philanthropy is a daily activity. By recognizing the every day actions of fundraisers and volunteers, those already giving will be motivated to do more—and, perhaps, even inspire others to do the same.

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