Apps to keep tabs on yourself

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 5:26am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 5:26am


Advances in wearable body sensors, mobile applications and other gadgets mean that nearly everything we do can be captured, logged and analysed.

And everyday consumers are jumping at the chance to conduct their own experiments - tracking sleep, caffeine intake, kids' studying habits, household chores, even whether a baby is nursing more frequently on mum's left breast or her right.

"I think there's an overall trend toward curiosity and proving knowledge of one's self in the world," said Ernesto Ramirez, a self-tracking devotee who helped to organise a two-day conference on the subject this month in San Francisco.

Speakers at past "Quantified Self" conferences have included a man who developed his own app to see if he could walk every street in Manhattan and a dad who used trackers on his kids to monitor chores.

When Tim Davis tipped the scales at 144 kg two years ago, he bought a Fitbit gadget to track his physical activity and the Lose It! app on his phone to track calories. He bought a Wi-fi-enabled scale that published his daily weight on his Twitter feed and turned to other apps to track his pulse, blood pressure, daily moods and medication. At one point, Davis said he was using 15 different apps and gadgets, which he said helped him drop 29kg by the following year.

"It's the second-by-second, minute-by-minute changes that really did it," said Davis, 39. "If you're the type of person who likes gadgets and devices and to collect metrics, you're also the kind of person who does not like gaps in data."

Paediatrician Natasha Burgert said apps that track newborn feedings and sleep patterns had become wildly popular among her patients and she now encouraged parents to send her the data before their appointments.

"In the first few weeks, parents are so tired. It's really hard for them to give you objective data," Burgert said.

Public health advocates and researchers say tracking technology could be used to encourage people to use less petrol, conserve water or drive more slowly by giving them real-time feedback on their daily habits. It could also expose causes of medical conditions that baffle doctors.

HopeLab, based in Redwood, California, is one nonprofit looking to harness technology to improve health.

"When you give people a sense of autonomy, a sense of agency, that can actually be very transformative to their health," spokesman Richard Tate said.

Ramirez said the next step would be embedding sensors in nearly everything a person encounters throughout the day and linking the information together.