Life tracking is hot trend for 2014
The Quantified Self (QS) is a growing global movement selling a new form of wisdom, encapsulated in the slogan “self-knowledge through numbers”. Rooted in the American tech scene, it encourages people to monitor all aspects of their physical, emotional, cognitive, social, domestic and working lives.
The wearable cameras that enable individuals to broadcast their life minute by minute; the Nano-sensors that can be installed in any region of the body to track vital functions from blood pressure to cholesterol intake, the voice recorders that pick up the sound of the sleeping self or of a baby’s babble—together, these devices can provide you with the means to regain control over your fugitive life.
New technologies make it simpler than ever to gather and analyse personal data. Sensors have shrunk and become cheaper. Accelerometers, which measure changes in direction and speed, used to cost hundreds of pounds but are now cheap and small enough to be routinely included in smartphones.
This makes it much easier to take the quantitative methods used in science and business, and apply them to the personal sphere.
People have always talked about the ill-defined concept of the ‘work-life balance’, but until now determining what this is has been based entirely on instinct. However, with the advent of self-monitoring, it will be interesting to see whether this really can lead to discovering how to become the perfect version of ourselves.
Humans, above all are creatures of habit. This why an inherent feature of the quantified self movement is simplicity. Tracking should be as automated as possible, requiring the least amount of manual logging; not only do people lead busy lives which makes them forget small details, but they are also fundamentally bias. The only way to objectively gather, understand and quantify ones activity is by using apps that demand the least human input possible.
They go on your wrist, they use accelerometers to measure your steps and activity levels throughout the day, and they send that data to an app on your mobile phone
Fitbit: In my opinion, the Fitbit Flex is actually the best all-around band for your dosh. It’s pretty accurate. Its wireless data-syncing is amazingly fast. It works with both iPhone and Android. It records sleep, and it has a comprehensive food-tracking system. It’s comfortable, and it’s the least expensive, at around £75. The wireless syncing of your activity data to your mobile phone via Bluetooth means I can easily check on my progress, which is always really satisfying (or depressing!). A button on the Fitbit shuffles through four blue screens that show calories, distance (in miles), steps, and a Tamagotchi-like flower that grows when your activity increases and shrinks when it decreases. The device learns your behaviour over time, so if you start working out heavily, it raises its standards and won’t grow as quickly. Which I think is pretty genius very. The battery lasts about 6 days, which isn’t as long as some of the others (Nike Fuel) but I think its multitude of functions far outweigh this simple drawback, 6 days it a pretty long time.
Basis Watch: The Basis Band is a watch, not a band. It definitely looks more like a gadget watch and although it’s relatively lightweight, I have found it quite clunky. The device has a large screen that shows users how they’re doing “right now” in terms of their activity level. However, the main problem I have found is that the Basis has been more consistently on the conservative side when monitoring my activity, and it sometimes gives me some abnormally low readings on days when I have been fairly active. On the plus side, the devices’ smartphone and web app displays data in interesting and fun ways. And users can earn points for each “habit” or goal they complete, which provides motivation to continue using the device. And although the Basis fails to track information about calorie intake, its most distinguishing feature, which definitely gives it a few more kudos points, is the heart rate monitor. Heart rate is a really effective means of determining overall fitness, and measuring improvement so I really like this feature. The battery life is pretty similar to the Fitbit, it lasts me just under a week.
I have found the three best fitness tracker apps to be; Daily Burn Tracker, Moves and to correlate activity with when you are most happiness; Mappiness is really effective.
Daily Burn Tracker: The app combines everything needed to lose weight and manage your nutritional intake each day. Individuals can track your diet with the food diary, track a workout, and track your weight, all in the one place. And progress can be visualised through some pretty ugly (but simple) graphs, which act as a good motivational kick up the backside. Tracking workouts is the most valuable function of this app, you enter in what you did and for how long, and the app will automatically calculate the calories burned by using your current weight and height.
However, though this is great for following a structured workout, there are a variety of free cardio and strength plans offered, if one is an advanced exerciser, there are no free training plans (paying for the Pro version is the only way round this). Furthermore, there’s no way to opt out of a training plan if you’d rather follow your own. This app is, in my view the most efficient way to monitor exercise via mobile. Logging is kept to a minimum, which is one of the most fundamental principles for exercise; the least manual input the better.
Moves: The great thing about Moves is that it tracks the individual’s steps, calories, distance, and lots of other things with very little information from you. All that is required in order to use Moves is launch it and Moves will then track all your steps by default, no logging, no maintenance, just tracking.
The best thing about this app is its simplicity. This is the best example of how data visualisation can simplify data; complicated algos are overladen with beautiful design. A central dot is clicked on to display clearly the number of steps you’ve taken, the number of calories burned (to turn this function on the app you must change it in setting, and add weight, height and age for accuracy), the number of miles walked, the amount of time spent moving, and the timeline shows you where you have been. The app identifies when travelling, and has rarely got my destinations wrong. The only drawback is that you cannot quit the app, which has a tendency to drain not too much but some of the phone’s battery, but if closed it will stop working.
Mappiness: 4 easy steps, unobtrusive and with very little need for thought. Mappiness works in 4 stages, the first uses sliders to rate how ‘Happy’, how ‘Relaxed’ and how ‘Awake’ you are. The other stages, which are multiple choice questions, require you to select who you are with, whether you are indoors or out and what activity you are doing. For greater accuracy you can take pictures and add extra notes, but it is not essential.
The surveys arrive twice away, and well yes, I am not going to lie and say that they are not annoying. They are. You just never feel like answering 4 questions when you see them pop up on your phone. But the results are effective so if you can stick with it, it is definitely worth it. It has the means to produce some really insightful data that Understands where and when you are happy and not.
However, I have found it slightly disconcerting that in nearly all of my tests I am ‘Alone, or with strangers only’…. And I seem to be relatively happy at these times!