Of Body Hacking, Ben Franklin and Your Data-Driven Future

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

In colonial times, Benjamin Franklin was fond of keeping a list of "13 virtues." If he violeted one, he would check it off, and use it as motivation to improve his moral standing. He was an original body hacker.

Today, body hacking is a much more elaborate, much more technical affair. Practitioners graph and plot nearly every aspect of their lives, and tailor their daily activities based on that data, much like Franklin did with his virtues back in the late 1700s. Unlike Franklin, however, these people are engineers with access to powerful computers, sensors and modern day minerals, nutrients and medicines.


On its most basic level, body hacking is keeping a journal of your diet, or perhaps the number of steps taken in a day.

At its most extreme, well, here is love in the 21st century:

"We're moving away from the era of the blockbuster drug and toward personalized medicine," adds Joe Betts-LaCroix, a self-tracker and bio-engineer. He opens a laptop with graphs of his weight and that of his wife, Lisa, and two kids, measured daily for the last three years. He has data detailing his wife's menstrual cycle for 10 years. "I was giving birth to our son, and instead of holding my hand and supporting me and hugging me, he was sitting in the corner entering the time between my contractions into a spreadsheet," says Lisa Betts-LaCroix. - Slate


On a more serious and fascinating level, body hacking marks the beginning of truly personalized medicine. As devices become smaller and more powerful, they will follow us everywhere—work, bathroom, bedroom—where their constant monitoring and calculations will allow wearers to measure mineral output in their urine, vital signs and even mood. Smart clothes could do this with embedded nanotechnology sensors, and beam the data to an iPod touch-sized device or even wirelessly to your doctor.

For now, however, this is still the hobbyists dream, says Silicon Valley investor Tim Chang in an interview with Slate, although there are tangible prototypes out in the wild. One such device, called Sprout, is a 30 lb network of wires, sensors and a iPod touch; all of which tracks his drowsiness levels and mood and compiles oodles of data for parsing later on.


The device is far too clunky and expensive to be considered a "tipping point" for body hacking and tracking just yet, but one gets the feeling listening to Chang and others (like body hacking author Tim Ferriss) that this quantified future is a mere checkbox away from reality. [Slate]