Need motivation? There’s an app or gadget for that
By Anne Flaherty, AP, Oct 16, 2013
WASHINGTON (AP)—Welcome to the measured life.
When Tim Davis of Beaver, Pa., tipped the scales at 318 pounds two years ago, he bought a Fitbit gadget to track his physical activity and the Lose It! app on his phone to track calories. He bought a Wi-Fi-enabled scale that published his daily weight on his Twitter feed and turned to other apps to track his pulse, blood pressure, daily moods and medications. At one point, Davis said he was using 15 different apps and gadgets, which he said helped him drop 64 pounds by that following year.
A growing category of devices and software applications promises to measure the mundane details of our daily lives: calories burned, diaper changes, how much and how well we sleep, caffeine intake, kids’ studying habits, household chores, even whether a baby is nursing more frequently on Mom’s left breast versus her right.
The apps have become increasingly sophisticated, tapping into a niche market of everyday consumers and aspiring amateur scientists to conduct mini-experiments on themselves.
"It’s the second-by-second, minute-by-minute changes that really did it," said Davis, 39. "If you’re the type of person who likes gadgets and devices and to collect metrics, you’re also the kind of person who does not like gaps in data."
These self-tracking consumers don’t necessarily have high-tech backgrounds. But they like pie charts and graphs. They want their achievements highlighted in green, their failures coded red. They also want to compete, against themselves and others, and to create digital scrapbooks that can be referenced years from now.
"I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘obsessed,’" said Ernesto Ramirez, a self-tracking devotee who helped to organize a two-day conference on the subject last week in San Francisco. Speakers at past "Quantified Self" conferences have included a man who developed his own app to see if he could walk every street in Manhattan and a dad who used trackers on his kids to monitor chores.
"I think there’s an overall trend toward curiosity and proving knowledge of one’s self in the world," Ramirez added.
A pediatrician in Kansas City, Mo., Natasha Bugert, said apps that track newborn feedings and sleep patterns have become wildly popular among her patients and she now encourages parents to send her the data before their appointments.
"In the first few weeks, parents are so tired. It’s really hard for them to give you objective data," Bugert said.
Public health advocates and researchers say tracking technology could be used to encourage people to use less gasoline, conserve water or drive slower by giving them real-time feedback on their daily habits. It also could expose causes of medical conditions that baffle doctors.
Ramirez said he thinks the next step will be embedding sensors in nearly everything a person encounters throughout the day and linking that information together. Think of a car that won’t start if you’ve consumed too much alcohol or a light bulb that changes colors when it’s time to go to bed.