From how much you spend to the distance you run there are apps and devices to measure every aspect of your life

The idea of measuring things to track progress towards a goal is common within organizations; company turnover and profit, educational exam results, public transport reliability and so on. But the use of this method by individuals, other than those trying to lose weight, is fairly uncommon; until now that is.

The idea of the Quantified Self derives from the incorporation of technology into data gathering on aspects of a person’s daily life, from intake of food and drink to sleep quality. When a large number of people are participating, cross-referencing this information can lead to the discovery of correlations and ultimately methods to improve their state of being. An example is the system known as Asthmapolis. This is a device that is attached to the top of an asthma inhaler. When an asthma sufferer has an attack and uses their inhaler to help, the device picks this up and sends a message to their smartphone, recording the date and location of the attack. Not only can this identify potential causes for an individual, but when the data from a large number of recordings can be put together, you can map geographical locations of where people may be more likely to have an attack.

The outburst of smartphones, Apps and the reducing cost of relevant technology such as accelerometers (which measure changes in direction and speed), is making the ability to self-track considerably more viable. Individuals are now able to track their entire lifestyles using Apps such as Fitbit, which tracks the number of steps taken, calories burned, food and drink consumed and amount of sleep. With a Facebook download to your smartphone or tablet, this data can then be shared with friends and family to show your progress and set collaborative goals. Analysis to this depth is only leading people to become far more disciplined and conscious of their daily life, in effect changing their way of life.

PatientsLikeMe and CureTogether are crowd-sourcing websites, where people share their experiences of illnesses and conditions and subsequent treatment or relief. This mass of patient-contributed data is aiding researches discover best fit solutions for illnesses and conditions and even new treatments altogether. As a result many people across the world are turning to these websites as a potential treatment instead of their doctors.

Boozerlyzer, an app for Android smartphones, helps people track their drinking and uses simple games to help them measure the effect of alcohol on their co-ordination, reaction times, memory and emotions.

From a similar angle, the My Last Cigarette app helps people track their smoking habit. Upon entering your smoking habit and personal details, a bunch of data is thrown out such as life expectancy, circulatory and lung function, carbon monoxide levels in your blood and even monetary cost. When reducing the amount you smoke or stopping smoking altogether, these indicators show the positive impact this has on your life.

But the question is how far do we go with this? A few years ago, the thought of people tracking themselves other than for weight loss would have been, well…weird. But it has become more socially acceptable and the benefits are becoming increasingly apparent.

Back in October 2011, Google patented technology whereby an app could launch on your smartphone based on your movement. Depending on the movement, it would then track what you were up to over a period of time, in an attempt to eventually preempt what applications to run and when, based on how you hold it.

GreenGoose, one of the many San Francisco start-ups, has devised tiny motion sensors that can be attached to everyday items, sending a wireless signal to a base-station whenever the item is used. A sensor can be attached to the collar of a dog to track how often you walk your dog, which is fine. But attaching sensors to your toothbrush or a watering can…really?

Laura Leegood

Feature image courtesy of Asthmapolis

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