Essays on Technology and Culture

Why I’m Self-Tracking Again

With the release of iOS 8—well, 8.0.2—I’m dipping a toe back into self-tracking. Now that there’s a way to view information about myself, and do stuff with it that doesn’t require pulling it from twelve different apps, I feel like I can get a better picture of my activity and sleep than I was able to get before. That is, when the app works right without losing data. I was bitten by this bug on Saturday, and lost the data on a 15,000+ step walk. My body remembers, at least.

I’m tracking all of this data with my iPhone, rather than a separate fitness tracker. The apps in my toolkit are Pedometer++ for step tracking, MyFitnessPal for food, MotionX 24/7 for sleep tracking, Centered for meditation, FitStar for workouts, UP Coffee to track caffeine consumption, and the Jawbone UP app as a dashboard and to get insights. I don’t actually need Pedometer++, but I use it because it has a good, if a bit oversized, Notification Center widget. Also, UP Coffee doesn’t use HealthKit (yet), but works with the main UP app.

Right now, I’m still in “collection” mode. I want a sense of my daily routines, and standard habits before I try to shake things up. Anything I was already doing to reach my health goals, such as trying to walk 10,000 steps, or keep under 1800 calories is still ongoing as I collect this data, of course. What will be important is determining what I do with all of this information. If, after a week or two, I don’t feel like something needs to be changed, I can drop tracking that particular metric. What I would love out of all this collection is something Matt Birchler hit on a while back. I want to know when I’m trending the wrong way.

There’s nothing in HealthKit that will have it keep me informed out of the box. A standardized platform for health tracking is good to have, if only to build out services that can provide the Skinner Box style reinforcement that actually changes habits—at least for some people. As I’ve said in other essays on self-tracking/Quantified Self, having a goal in mind is more important than just collecting data. You don’t need a fitness tracker, in hardware or software, to lose weight, get in shape, or whatever your goal is. You just need to do the work. Knowing can keep you going, but you still have to do the work.