Think you’re in tune with your body? The growing number of SELF-TRACKING APPS AND GADGETS might change your mind — and open your eyes for the better.I’M ONE BAD app/gadget girl.
That’s right: I’m emitting more data than the International Space Station thanks to a collection of digital devices strapped to my wrists measuring my every move, mood, calorie and snooze.
Yesterday, for example, my mint-green UP by Jawbone bracelet said I took 8,373 steps, slept seven hours and 36 minutes — of which four hours and 28 minutes were in REM — and consumed 2,458 calories. The sleek gray Fitbit’s Flex Wireless Activity & Sleep Wristband snaked around my left wrist tracked roughly 1,800 more steps than the UP bracelet — because of differing methods of quantifying my activity — and the Nike+ FuelBand concurred, lighting up like a Jumbotron in Times Square when I reached my fitness goal of 10,000 steps. Unfortunately, there was no discrepancy in my outlook: I recorded it as “extremely irritable” (“demonic” wasn’t an option) on Moodscope, then discovered via the calculations of the Period Tracker app that my monthly cycle was due in two days. Bingo!
Though this is likely more information than you need, it is part of my monthlong exploration into self-tracking, or the Quantified Self movement, which uses technology to harvest personal data. The more we know about ourselves, the better decisions we can make about our health and behavior, says Steven Dean, organizer of New York City’s Quantified Self group and a partner at Prehype, a product-innovation company in Manhattan.
“It creates mindfulness,” says Dean, who got involved in the self-tracking movement in 2008, shortly after Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf of Wired magazine started a blog that became so popular that they convened select groups of self-trackers in Kelly’s California home for informal “show-and-tell” looks at their experiments. Dean attended the second meeting in Palo Alto. He had completed an Ironman race the year before and was familiar with tracking, having regularly logged his speed, distance, sleep, resting heart rate and other measurements for 10 months. “I had a great race,” says Dean, a lanky 49-year-old with a broad grin.
The movement initially attracted data geeks and fitness freaks — “a cast of characters,” says Dean — and often was portrayed in the media as a fringe group obsessed with reducing every act, choice and bodily function to a data point. But that’s changed. Self-tracking is now very much a part of mainstream culture, with high-tech bangles such as the ones I’m sporting helping to facilitate a new frontier of greater self-awareness through numbers. In a way, we’ve become our own Big Brother, our lives now divided between the “real” and the digital exhaust that gets aggregated and codified by apps and wearable sensors into colorful graphs for display on our smartphones, computers and tablets.