The Dark Side of Tracking
Once you start measuring what you do, you can make some surprising discoveries. Working in your garden or mopping the floor can actually be harder work than cycling – though not as much fun, usually. But once you get started with tracking you quickly get to the stage where you have to log in to multiple sites to see everything and you can spend more time tracking your tracking results than getting on with your life. Now that Google Health is being discontinued, the two best sites we found for bringing everything together are LoseIt! and Runkeeper – even if you don’t want to lose weight or go running.
LoseIt! is primarily a site (and iPhone and Android app) to help you track what you eat, with a lot of encouragement to help you lose weight, but you can also integrate results from Fitbit, the Withings scale and the Zeo sleep system. Runkeeper is switching from being a site that only tracks running to a more generic fitness system; you can bring in data from the Fitbit, Zeo and Withings scale as well as recording activity with Polar, Garmin and Wahoo sensors, but in the long term the site is building a Health Graph system that won’t just show you information from different sources side by side – it will try to correlate things like whether you walk more or run faster on days when you’ve slept well.
Not everyone who starts tracking themselves finds it useful or helpful, and some people find it downright depressing. And depending on what you’re tracking, you need to think about privacy. If you’re trying to lose weight, sharing your weigh-ins with friends can be a source of encouragement – but you might not want your boss making comments about it. Because sites are social networks, the activities you enter tend to be publicly available, but if you’re sharing details about watching nine hours of TV or some of your more personal activities, you’ll probably want to decide in advance who to share those with.
Some people worry that employers and insurance companies will expect to see too much information about our private lives in the future. If your boss asks you to wear a DirectLife device to help you get fitter so the health insurance costs go down, would you do it? How about letting your auto insurer track your driving habits? Progressive’s Snapshot device records 30 days of driving habits in return for reducing your premiums by up to 30%.
Personal tracking isn’t likely to result in a surveillance society, but one of the founders of CureTogether (a health tracking site) who gave up tracking found that measuring everything can be about perfectionism and poor self-esteem.
Like most technology, tracking is a tool and it’s up to you what you do with it. Gadgets and services like these aren’t going away, and they could be just what you need to make your life better.