Chris Dancy claims to be the world's most-connected person, with 300-700 data-collection devices monitoring his daily movements. The 45-year old says his lifestyle helps him stay fit, achieve his goals and be kinder.
DW: You say that you are the most-connected person on the planet, so, what does your typical day look like? How does it start, for instance?
Chris Dancy: This morning I actually spent the night at a friend's house, so I didn't have [all the systems] I needed. But I had some things with me. I carry a couple of different phones which measure ambient sound, ambient light, air pressure, humidity and temperature. At home, obviously, I can measure a lot more of that [information] a lot easier because I have sensors in my own house.
You also have things attached to your body that help you, right?
Correct. My life is broken into two areas, when it comes to being connected. There are the wearable devices that are on my body, and then there are the sensors and devices that are around me. Those work in concert with each other. [For] the wearable devices, most people think of things like a Fitbit or some type of activity monitor you wear on your wrist. But there are also things like a narrative camera, which looks like a piece of jewelry that clips to a piece of clothing. It takes a photo every few minutes. I also wear a heart-rate monitor across my chest and something called a Lumo Back across my waist, which helps with posture. You calibrate it and if you start to lean over a little bit, you get a little bit of haptic feedback or small vibration. Then I have Google Glass and a Pebble watch. On an average day I have about 10 things on my body that are collecting or displaying information.
What's the purpose of all of this? How does a data-assisted lifestyle make your life better?
The amazing thing now, after five years of doing this, I don't have to think about much of it [anymore]. In the beginning it was difficult because there was a lot of work you had to do to look at the data and try to find correlations. Once I could find those patterns I was able to make adjustments in my life to create better habits: eating better, being more active, meditating, being kinder, focusing on things I like to procrastinate on, working toward goals around my career.
Anything you can think of [where] you would think, 'my life would be better if X' - there's a set of activities that create that.
For instance, if you want a raise at work, there are some behaviors you can do [that will help]. You can be on time to meetings, focus on quality work, you can be more of a team player, you can get better sources of information. A lot of that comes from having proper rest, nutrition, knowing where to go for these information sources. Imagine your life like a vehicle: Most people have their body as their vehicle, their mind is the entertainment system with their eyes and ears. But there's no dashboard. What I really tried to create was a viewable dashboard of my life.
Is much of this data going up online? You have argued for more awareness from people to protect their own data.
Protecting [data] would be a great second step. I think the first step is realizing how much data they have. People are just dripping in information, but they don't realize it because their life is so automated. In the United States, a lot of people use club cards in stores and restaurants. Oftentimes the information on the purchases that you make at the grocery store is much more valuable than the few cents off you get on bread or toothpaste. We give away all of that information constantly. Everything you touch most days at some point is connected to the Internet. At some point you're touching something that will touch something that's connected to the Internet. That's a lot of information that you could be using if you knew or could find value in it. Of course, Google and Facebook find billions of dollars of value in it. I think as people we could too.
Speaking of Google, you've used Google Glass for a while now. What has the experience been like for you?
The biggest experience right now is the reaction you get from people. I'd like to say the coolest experience is actually wearing the Glass, but the coolest experience is watching the reaction you get from people seeing you and wanting to know what it is - and then putting it on them and letting them try it. It's like introducing somebody to the future. I remember I saw a father and his child about a year ago, when I first got my Glass, and he said: "What is that?" I showed him and he tried it on and I said, "Take a picture of your kid." He asked how, and I said, "Just say, 'Okay Glass, take a picture.'" He did it and you could see his eyes well up. He handed me back the Glass and said, "I can't believe my child is going to live in a world where you can just do these things."
I think it's very empowering for people who see a lot of promise in a world where they are not looking down at their palm, where they're not worried about how much time they're spending on the Internet or connected to things. For me, I like to use them privately. I will use them in public if it's someplace I don't know, to understand directions or get information about the world around me, but even then I use them in a very - I think - polite way. I think if you walk around talking to a computer strapped to your face, tilting your head and blinking your eyes, you look like something out of a movie. I think it's kinder to just use the touch gestures. There are times when you have to speak with it, but you don't have to be very loud with it.
It's been five years since you began your data-assisted lifestyle. How do friends and family react to your new life?
They have had a long immersion process in it. Some of them don't understand it. Some of them get it and some of them want to emulate it. If I meet new people I try not to talk about a lot of this, because the first thing they ask is, 'Am I being recorded?' But everyone's being recorded. You can't leave your house in the United States without a traffic camera recording you and a satellite seeing your car. You're being recorded everywhere - your lack of awareness of the recording is really the problem.
Denver-based IT expert Chris Dancy tours the world giving lectures and consulting on the future of work, edutainment and data-assisted lifestyles. He tweets here.