Winning @ Life

If you’re like me, you’re probably sick of hearing about how “gamification” is the next big thing. But if we think about it, the core concept is quite interesting: What if the reward of a check-in was not a “mayor” badge from the local coffee shop, but rather months or years added to your life? What if personal data collection was so easy and fun that it wasn’t a chore? And what if we could utilize that data to actually improve our lives?

Beyond badges: The future of healthcare

As an example, let’s think about how the healthcare industry might be disrupted by personal data. Currently, you might visit a doctor once a year for a check-up, or more likely when you’re already feeling sick. The doc asks you a few vague questions and checks your blood pressure, then gives you her best diagnosis based on the information at hand. This is how it’s been done for decades.

It’s not hard to imagine how this could all change if our digital devices constantly measured and stored our bio-indicators: An analyst could review your data each month and draw insights on your health, making recommendations for small improvements and even catching warning signs months or years before they develop into real problems. The data would of course be available to your doctor, providing additional reference for diagnosis and treatment.

In fact, much of the technology required to achieve this already exists: wristwatches that measure indicators like heart rate and blood pressure; and your trusty smartphone that can collect data on where you are, how fast you’re moving, how many steps you take, and how you shift in your sleep.

Imagine an app that allows you to improve your lifestyle

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. What if an app could give you real-time feedback to help you become healthier, smarter, funnier, and more cultured? The same app could create a shopping list when you’re in the grocery store, and recipes to cook when you’re in the kitchen. It could tell you when, where and how to exercise. It could look at your calendar and email to tell you which clients and colleagues are stressing you out the most. It could tell you when there’s a comedy show or a great play in town that you should catch. Heck, it could even pull in your Facebook check-ins and newsfeed, analyze who you’ve been hanging out with, and tell you when you need to catch up with particular friends (or avoid certain others!)

Of course, it should measure whether you’re following the recommendations and give you a score on how well you’re living your life.

“Amer scored 3,426 points this week and has jumped to no. 1 on the leaderboard – #Winning@Life!”

Several apps and devices already exist that can perform many of these actions in isolation. Devices like Basis and Bodymedia are able to track your heart rate, perspiration and skin temperature, giving you recommendations on ways to improve your health. The Nike+ suite of products allow you to set fitness goals and compete with your peers. In the world of apps, Sleep Cycle is now old news as we are seeing sophisticated developments like SAGA, an ambient companion that persistently tracks your activity and can make recommendations based on your habits no matter where you are and what you’re doing.

The missing ingredient is the understanding (or imagination) required to tie this information together and make it useful enough to create a real difference in our lives.

Forget about gamification. Let’s get down to the seriously fun business of putting our data to work. It’s only a matter of time before we stop vying to be the mayor of the local coffee shop and start competing to win at life. Game on.

Original article published in the 2013 SoDA Report:

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