Self-Tracking Apps To Help You 'Quantify' Yourself

Mar 12, 2013
Originally published on March 12, 2013 10:11 am

Technology has made it easier than ever to track your activity levels, your sleep cycles, how you spend your time, and more. The self-trackers who near-obsessively capture and analyze their own data are part of a growing "Quantified Self" movement.

Interested in giving self-tracking a try? Self-tracker Peter Zandan, an executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies who headed up a panel on Quantified Self this year at South by Southwest, helped us curate this list of apps and devices to get more data feedback from your daily life.

If you're just getting started, the most "mainstream" self-tracking devices are the Fitbit, Jawbone UP, and Nike Fuelband. Apple's getting in on this wristband-tracking market with its iWatch, which is expected to come out at the end of this year.

For heart rate monitoring devices, Garmin and Polar both make options that self-trackers like.

Food monitoring apps include MyFitnessPal and MyPlate. "[These are] great for folks who want to do more than count calories," Zandan said.

If you want to dig a little deeper, these self-tracking devices, apps and systems might teach you something that you don't know about yourself.

23andMe: A DNA analysis service that provides information and tools for you to learn about your genetic traits, disease risk and ancestry; you mail a saliva sample for laboratory testing.

Talking20: Amino acid testing to monitor what is happening in your body over time; you mail small blood samples and receive digital results.

Moodscope: An app that allows you to track your mood each day using an online card game; look at scores over time and share with friends.

Zeo: A comprehensive sleep monitoring system that includes a lightweight headband, bedside display, online analytical tools and email-based personalized coaching program.

Equanimity: An app that provides reminders and feedback for your meditation practice; it includes a timer, journal for note-taking and historical graphics.

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Technology is making it easier than ever to measure our every move. Wearable sensors let users gather data on everything from daily computer keystrokes to nightly sleep cycles. The self-tracking movement could change the way we live and work.

NPR's Elise Hu met someone who's tracking his every step.

NOAH ZANDAN: I'm starting my Nike plus watch that is going to measure how far and how fast we walk using GPS and this pod that's on my shoe.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Noah Zandan measures each move he makes down to the most granular details.

ZANDAN: And if I show you my phone here, you can see I've got nine different self-tracking apps - everything from habits to running to fitness, sleep.

HU: The 30-year-old entrepreneur is part of a growing movement known as Quantified Self, a community of self-trackers that wear devices to measure themselves constantly.

GARY WOLF: The practices of using numbers to reflect on ourselves is quite old. And it's when these established practices meet these new technologies that you get the Quantified Self.

HU: Former Wired editor Gary Wolf started the Quantified Self community in 2008.

WOLF: What's new are some of the technological tools, the cloud analytics, the small sensor technologies, the computing that's coming very close to us and is in our phones.

HU: Devices that you can now carry or wear make it possible to measure how much REM sleep you get each night, your peak productivity time at work, what goes in your body, and what comes out.

ZANDAN: So there is a guy in California that's been tracking his poop for the last year, and he was actually able to diagnose himself with Crohn's disease before his doctors, because of tracking his stool sample for the last year.

HU: Most people aren't monitoring themselves that closely, but more Americans say they are self-tracking. Fourteen percent in the 2012 Pew Research survey on Internet in the American life said they use websites, a computer program or an app to track their health. That's more health trackers than there are Twitter users.


SONNY VU: It's hard to establish new habits, right? But you can't even get there if you don't have anything quantified to work with.

HU: Sonny Vu's company created the first blood glucose meter for mobile phones. Makers like Vu say the movement is spawning a whole new industry of companies that want to teach users what to do with their data.

VU: So what I think is going to happen and is happening, is you have a number of these apps and web services that are using artificial intelligence, using crowd sourcing information, using experts to deliver personalized health coaching, fitness coaching or whatnot; and on the medical side, decision support services for patients and care providers. This will be a new industry - you know, automated coaching, automated decision support.

HU: Noah says the constant feedback has changed the way he lives and maybe how long he will live.

ZANDAN: And I actually have an app on here that's - that will tell me what I'm going to die and tell me how long I'm going to live, based on my daily habits. And if I improve my habits, which it sends me an email every day with what habit I should improve, like drink more water, I can see my life expectancy increase on my iPhone.

HU: Just knowing details about ourselves doesn't always translate to better living. If it did, bathroom scales would have done more for those with weight problems. But devoted self-trackers say the end goal isn't necessarily changing themselves, but knowing themselves.

ZANDAN: It's not just giving the data so I can improve, it's giving the data so I can understand.

HU: Paving a way to better understanding - one carefully counted step - at a time.

Elise Hu, NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.