Self-tracking, life-logging, activity-tracking, “the quantified-self (QS) movement” as the smarty-pants say, or as some have asked, “What’s with the weird watch?” Well, I’m hooked. I don’t go anywhere these days without my device. My activity tracker had me at hello.
Over the summer I started wearing the Shine. I’d been waiting for it–it had a significantly delayed shipping date–which only heightened my desire. I’ve worn it every day (except one) since. The world really is different to me now. Before you start to criticize and marginalize my proclamations, know that I waited nearly 1/2 a year to write about this to ensure it wasn’t just a fad.
How My Activity Tracker Is Changing Me:
First things first: I realized how sedentary some of my days are. Especially when I’m writing or working intensely; knowing this has changed how I think about walking. Secondly, I’m really much happier knowing how much movement I have during a day rather than guessing about it. Even when I’ve hardly moved a few paces, I’m thankful for the insight. I mean, some days we pig out, some days we aren’t as hungry and eat salad, some days we run miles. Other days we work and write and sit far too long. My activity tracker helps me understand the patterns and think about new ways to live differently. The boys always want to know how much we’ve moved. This tracker has power around here. If there’s any New Year’s “resolution” that may be worth committing to–it may simply be to check in on how you’re moving. Find a tool to give you observable data. Behavior change perhaps will follow.
To be clear, it isn’t the device I’m attached to that is changing my life, it’s the new experiences I’ve having because of it. New insight from my Shine changes my mood, the way I map out my day, and has undoubtably made me more self-aware. I’m thankful for my consultant.
Reality is, many of us are tracking our lives and our movement without realizing it. Before you write we trackers off, read on.
It was at the 2012 Medicine X conference that I first realized I’d been self-tracking since college and most of the patients/parents I see in clinic are, too. Susannah Fox, a Pew researcher, gave a talk about self-tracking, trends for Americans adopting mobile devices, and ways we are using data to improve our health. She mentioned “the skinny jeans” in the closet. You know, those jeans you have in your drawer that you only wear when you’re in awesome shape? You pull ’em on the first week of January every year to see just how hard the holidays were on you…See, you’re a tracker, too.
Fox mentioned how teens and women track their menstrual cycle, how some people weigh themselves every Monday, how some use a written journal, and how about 1/2 of people track in their head. The Pew Report found that 60% of Americans track their weight, diet, or exercise. It’s obvious that this can have profound impact on an individual level but clearly widespread data tracking will with time affect our population, too. In fact, 1/3 of people say that their tracking changes a health decision. New convenient devices may change us all 15 years out. New parents track the number of wet diapers a baby makes, the number of breast feeds that occur, the weight of their newborn, and many new parents document their children with a daily photo. In the future, we’ll likely be able to capture the degree of jaundice our baby has using our smartphone and we certainly will quickly be able to track their sleep. I’m unconvinced we need to continually track babies for parental insight (I think it’s more important to observe) but new companies are getting funding and frantically producing options for tracking baby from day one. The digitized baby is the new digital native.
Why Activity Tracking May Change You
Reality is movement may be key to survival and I’ve found knowing about it is more fun. I’ve thought about 23 1/2 hours every single day since I first viewed it — if you need help being convinced that movement will change your health or your days, please sit back and enjoy the video. It’s walking I’m talking about here, not marathon swimming or olympic sports.
Which device you use doesn’t matter in my opinion (no data yet that one device is far better than another, although I trust that data is forthcoming). Key is this: if you like it & enjoy the data, you’ll keep it around.
Vacation serves up all sorts of rewards. Last week I took the first 5-day vacation I’d had since I got my Shine during the summer. Three days into vacation, I started streaking. Streaking! A whole new word that’s transformed my immediate goals. The streaking badge was unexpected and sincerely delivered elation when I saw it. I mean when else did I get an unexpected epic win just by going on a run for the 3rd day straight? Since then, I’ve been working hard to keep the streak alive. Last night I walked home from the hospital in the rain.
Kitty Ireland, “a life-logger” mentioned to NPR this morning the reality of being “creeped out” by the amount of data being automatically collected on her (i.e. via her phone, credit card, shopping habits). She reminds us that taking control of some of the data we produce may shift who sits in the driver’s seat. “There is data being collected about me that I don’t know is being collected. A life-logging tool gives back some of that control to you; let’s you use the data,”she said. Then David Goldstein, a QS champion, chimed in, “Corporations already have an unbelievable amount of data on us that they use to improve themselves and their own bottom line –It’s about time for us to start collecting our own data and use it for our own advantage as well.”
Katie @ Mommy Call says
Great to hear a perspective on these devices that is not about training for a marathon and is about real life!
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Real life solutions are key. Marathoning rarely happens for a lifetime…
Susannah Fox says
Thanks for the shout-out!
Those survey findings were a surprise to us, too — and I’m learning every day why they’re needed: as a reality check on some people’s rosy projections, as an encouragement to clinicians to ask their patients if they track and why, as an “I’m in the club!” feeling for all of us who don’t think we track just because we don’t (yet) use any tech to do so.
As a mom, I’ve also been surprised at how much my two boys love to track. It started with the Striiv device, which I admit I got as conference swag and never used. My older son asked for it and used it so much that his little brother begged us to buy him one — and then he convinced his best friend to get one so they could compete!
Now my older son has moved on to a Fuelband, bought with his own money (he’s on his 5th one, some durability issues there) and my husband is using a Fitbit (again, conference swag courtesy of another of my health conferences). And I should mention that my dad is a serious tracker — pencil and paper, but also some cool heart monitoring wearables. Maybe it’s finally time for me to join the family — your post is that convincing!
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Let me know if you do. I really love the daily data and the ongoing feedback. Today I felt a bit bummed about it, tough. Sometimes it makes a tough day a bit dicier. No way to get out and accumulate steps (we had commitments all day that were exceptionally sedentary) and with my husband on-call at the hospital I couldn’t sneak out for a run or a walk! ERGH!
Ora M. Roberts says
I know what you mean! I joined Weight Watchers last spring to “test” the program for myself, since I’ve been recommending it to patients for years. I also needed to lose some weight. After 3 months, I became convinced that it was a solid program, although there were technical issues that drove me nuts (I was using the online option). I easily lost the weight, and I stopped tracking after 3 months. In fact, I ended my membership. After 3 more months, I renewed my membership because I missed the tracking. Funny thing! I’m a life-long exerciser, and I’ve always eaten a healthy diet–with few exceptions. I have weighed myself once a week for decades. But I really enjoy entering all the data in the WW tracker, looking at the charts, and laughing at the pop-ups. “You gained weight.” No kidding…I’m the one who just weighed myself and honestly entered the numbers. Duh!
I’ve been looking for a pedometer that’s easy to use, since I walk 3 miles most days. I know I sit too much. Anyway, thanks for your QS insights. I love to read your blogs. Healthy New Year!
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Thanks for your comment, Ora!