I’ve been going to quite a few technology events in London recently. It’s partly to generally explore and find things out but the major reason is more visceral: Since leaving academia over a year ago I’ve been missing the company of geeks and It’s nice to be somewhere were you can make jokes about babel fishes, and rely on people to know the difference between 2D4s and R2D2s.
Quantified Self (QS) is a community of people, broadly, devoted to tracking various things about themselves (such as weight, sleeping patterns, how they spend their time, blood pressure, happiness, number of dream) in order to make some improvement. It’s difficult to think of a community that would more welcome some data on how their event went.
(It’s strikes me that if there is a social group for fans of peer-review, then that last sentence was null and void)
Of my many faults, is a slight tendency to enjoy the wrong things about these occasions. As one of the first arrivals I asked an organiser how many people were expected: “Well about 80 signed up on the meetup page so I’m expecting about 35-40”. This immediately struck me as odd – one would expect that members of a quantified self community would very much be in control of their calendars and social engagements. I, of course, then spend an entertaining few minutes considering the social groups likely to have the best acceptance to attendance ratio.
As it happens, around 34-39 other people duly turned up and we started up.
The event was refreshingly few of procedure – there was no ‘leave your email here on this sheet’, no ‘no flash photography’ and the presenters were left to get on with life.
Both presentations I saw were very solid. The first one presented a setup that I am honour bound to say was the philosophical opposite from my views on QS (although both are valid), but was engaging and he was comfortable with the material. It was very much a show and tell exercise.
I’d have been disappointed if I’d been looking for an explanation of how it fitted into a wider framework, but I wasn’t and it was an excellent way to gauge the sort of topics that crop up at the meetup.
The second speaker gave a nice evaluation of the different capabilities of activity tracker wristbands, which managed to stoke my completely media driven desire for an iWatch. The talk started off a nice little debate on the potential for, and likelihood of, the opening up of the hardware to hobbyists. If there was a fault with the presenters it was the lack of structured narrative, I’d quite like to have seen a ‘So I tracked this, and found out this surprising fact and made this change in my life’ rather than ‘I tracked this’.
The audience interaction was some of the best parts of the evening. There were all representatives of the standard techie pantheon: the microsoft haters, the inarticulate-but-extremely-bright developers, the hungry freelancers and the slightly more wide-eyed open-data zealots (in which group I cheerfully sit), and the discussion was at some points fierce but generally good humoured. If there was a fault with the attendees it was their tendency to look for the technology before looking for the science – a fault I’m frequently guilty of.
One recommendation might be to more clearly demarcate the boundaries between sessions. The structure of the evening was Talk 1, Talk 2, open discussion. In practice the transition from the Talk 2 Q&A to the open discussion was seamless, leaving the presenter up on stage and largely keeping the open discussion to the topics raised in the second talk – some way of separating out the two would be nice.
In general it was a pleasant evening: the atmosphere was of engineers figuring out hacks from new technology as opposed to, say, designers who are looking at the motivations, principles (and problems) surrounding the change. I’d recommend to a friend.