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The Measures of a Man

Illustration of Michael Snyder as world's most quantified human
Illustration: Viktor Koen; Michael Snyder headshot: Courtesy Stanford Medicine

by Deni Ellis Béchard


You look in the bathroom mirror. There’s you—groggy, disheveled, bleary-eyed—and there’s you: numeric, quantified, displayed along the glass’s margins in rows of illuminated data. Stats from your smartwatch appear: time spent in deep sleep, REM and light sleep; skin temperature and emotional arousal as gauged by sweat gland activity; blood pressure and oxygenation; and, of course, the hustle and bustle of your heart. A chip beneath your skin transmits info on glucose, cortisol, ketones, cholesterol and inflammation levels. You prick your fingertip, put it on a sensor, and more biometrics scroll along the glass, all in blue, none in red to flag an anomaly.

This is the future that Michael Snyder, director of the Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine and chair of the department of genetics, wants for everyone on Earth. He’s already cobbling it together for himself. Each morning, he straps on four smartwatches and an Exposometer to measure levels of airborne particles. He has a continuous glucose monitor for his blood sugar and an Oura ring to track his sleep. 

Photo of Michael Snyder in a lab.Michael Snyder (Photo: Lee Abel)

His smartphone maps his locations and quantifies his movements, and his smart scale measures his weight, body-mass index, body fat, body water, muscle mass and bone mass. He has also compiled a decade of lab data—on his genome (the sum of his genetic code), his epigenome (the markers regulating gene expression), his transcriptome (RNA transcripts of expressed genes), his blood proteome (the proteins in his blood), his urine metabolome (the molecular by-products of metabolism), his blood and urine lipidome (the fat contained therein), and his microbiome (the microbial organisms living in his mouth, sinuses, skin and gut). In essence, he has defined his Snyderome. The ever-more-exhaustive portrait he has been composing of himself includes immune profiling, hormone measurements, and 12 whole-body MRIs over the past five years, which show his physical structure in minute detail. The data from his body alone amounts to two petabytes—the storage capacity of 2,000 top-of-the-line iPhones or 31,250,000,000 Apollo 11 moon-landing computers. “And, you know, I’m only going to add to that,” Snyder says. At 66, he plans on squirreling away data to the grave and almost certainly enabling it to be gathered afterward.

Read more at Stanford Magazine