Let Me Be Your SME

I know a thing or two about a thing or two. Back in my content curation days at Evri, I had to learn the language used to describe every niche interest known to humankind. Every few days I would spend some time reading about a new topic and trying to find the common phrases, slang, and technical terms. Hockey. Yarn bombing. MMORPG. Hotrods. The Chinese occupation of Tibet. Wine. You name it.

Unfortunately, I have one of those brains that retains broad concepts better than specific details, so I’m still pretty bad at trivia games.

Over the past couple of years, my subject matter expertise has become a bit more focused. Before ARO launched Saga in 2013, I was already learning more about lifelogging and Quantified Self. It turns out I’d been self-quantifying for years, I just never put a label on it, and I was not aware that it was becoming a cultural phenomenon.

On a whim, I proposed that we send someone to the Quantified Self Europe conference in May 2013. I wasn’t necessarily thinking it should be me (I’m neither a salesperson nor an “expert”), but I was interested, so I ended up going with the Saga product manager. We went to observe and to show people Saga. After two days in Amsterdam, I started to feel like there might be some purpose to this beyond simply self-knowledge. Personal science has the potential to make us connected to one another in new ways with shared knowledge.

Fast forward five months and I’m onstage in San Francisco, at the Quantified Self global conference, talking about my grandma. I’d retrieved her teenage diary from my aunt, and I did a study of the things she chose to write down. I was able to draw parallels between her “lifelog” and my own, seventy years apart. The talk went over well, and was one of the more popular presentations at the conference.

There was something about my grandma talk that helped people make a human connection to Quantified Self. A couple of months later I was contacted by NPR’s Morning Edition. They wanted to interview me as a subject matter expert on lifelogging. My interview aired on January 3rd. Since then, I have been interviewed by an online technology journal for an as-yet-unpublished article, and a tech company doing research — both in response to seeing my grandma talk online.

It feels odd to be the person that gets called as a SME on anything, much less lifelogging. I am an inconsistent lifelogger, and while I have done lots of reading, writing, and thinking about the topic, there are plenty of folks who have done more, written academic papers, etc. I do think that I have valuable insights, and I’m more than happy to share them.

Before I stopped working at ARO, we released a UV monitor app called Brightly. One of the primary purposes of the app is to educate people about the dangers of UV and promote sun safety. I worked with a dermatologist to produce over 20 short, educational articles, and I now know more than I ever thought I would about UV, sunscreen, and skin cancer. This process reminded me of the DVDs I produced for the American Parkinson’s Disease Association back in 2005 -2007. For a little while I was a SME on that subject, too.

When I am working on a project, I engage pretty intensely with the content. Content is the soul of any technology product, and it’s important to go beyond the words and understand the meaning. This means I’ve had a pretty varied education over my entire career. Right now I’m wondering what’s next. What’s the next subject I get to dive into?

I’m not abandoning lifelogging and QS. Unlike sunscreen, these are topics that I like to engage with intellectually.