SXSW Interactive: Health Data & You
Dr. Talithia Williams on what to do with that Fitbit data
By Ashley Moreno,
2:50PM, Wed. Mar. 18, 2015
SXSW Interactive has no shortage of wearables, apps, and assorted tech to monitor your every movement. But advice on (noncreepy) ways to use the health-related data they collect? Different story. Cue statistician Dr. Talithia Williams, associate professor and chair at Harvey Mudd College.
In yesterday’s panel, Know Thyself: Introspective Personal Data Mining, Dr. Williams highlighted how many go wrong with the data their various devices collect: They don’t use it. “Try to understand your data,” said Williams. “What good is it to have lots of data just so you can store it?” Her advice: Set goals. Develop questions that will help you test why you see certain patterns, and then make changes. If possible, share what you see with your doctor. “I feel like my doctors are much more invested when they see that I’m also invested,” said Williams. “It makes the process more unitive.”
Williams directed the panel more like a conversation than a lecture, asking audience members to share the types of data they collect and what they do with it. This led to Williams and audience members sharing some surprisingly personal stories. And as Williams explained, that can affect how we view ourselves and one another in a positive way. “When we had our miscarriage and we told our in-laws, we found out that they had a miscarriage. My husband never knew about it,” said Williams. “It just wasn’t something that we talked about. A lot of people don’t talk about it. That’s one reason I talk about it openly. Because I feel like a lot of women experience things that they just don’t get the chance to share because they feel like it only happens to them.”
If you want to start collecting personal data, don’t feel the need for a new gadget. When an audience member asked Williams what devices she used, she had this simple answer: “I’m old school. I use a thermometer.”