Ariana Eunjung Cha's recent roundup of digital health called, "The revolution will be digitized", points a searing finger at our growing addiction to track.
I am always heartened when mainstream media giants like the Washington Post investigate the ins and outs of digital health, what many still consider to be a niche issue.
As we all know, the digital health industry is exploding, yet the mainstream media seems somehow in denial, or worse, completely unaware of the revolution at hand.
One consumer who “gets it” is 66-year-old astrophysicist Larry Smarr, who Cha profiles in her opening salvo of all things digital. She describes a man determined to measure everything his body can possibly yield, including his heart rate, blood pressure, stress level, steps walked and hours slept. All in all, he tracks more than 150 factors.
Smarr, reports Cha, even agreed to have his colon 3-D printed.
It sits on his desk as a paperweight now, a heavy reminder of his desire to get ahead of the digital power curve. After all, he tells Cha, even Benjamin Franklin chronicled his own health performance 200 years ago in richly detailed notes and diaries, so why not follow his lead?
We know exactly how much gas we have, the engine temperature, how fast we are going. What I’m doing is creating a dashboard for my body. - Larry Smarr tells Ariana Eunjung Cha in the Washington Post.
The piece is an essay on a society gone gadget-mad and an industry hungry and impassioned to keep up. Google, Apple, Microsoft and legions of digital health companies have thrown down the gauntlet, as they attempt to “rebuild, regenerate and reprogram the human body”.
Cha does an outstanding job of chronicling the issues and gives a one-stop shop approach to understanding all sides.
- Cha raises questions about what physicians, academics and ethicists describe as “the narcissism of the technological age — and one that raises serious questions about the accuracy and privacy of the health data collected, who owns it and how it should be used.”
- “The implications of the proliferation of devices for broader surveillance by the government.”
- The 2011 scandal after “some owners of Fitbit exercise sensors noticed that their sexual activity — including information about the duration of an episode and whether it was 'passive, light effort' or 'active and vigorous' — was being publicly shared by default.”
- Concerns that “wearables will be used as 'black boxes' for a person’s body in legal matters."
- From an anthropological point of view, does our obsession with quanification threaten our survival as a species?
In a fascinating, thought-provoking comment from Deborah Estrin, a professor of computer science and public health at Cornell University, Estrin points out to Cha that 'Homo sapiens asa species has survived for about 130,000 years without such technology because the human body already has a number of alarm systems built into it. Any mother who has been woken in the wee hours by a crying child knows that a gentle press of the back of the wrist to a forehead is fast, free and eerily accurate in diagnosing a fever.'
To this day, I can still tell how my adult daughters are feeling just by the looks on their faces and I doubt there will be an app to replace that connection in my lifetime.
The piece is worth a read and provides some thought-provoking insight into the multi-billion dollar world of digital health, quantified self and the Internet of things.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.