I’m not the sort of person who has to have the latest gadget as soon as it hits the shops so I’m a little late to the quantified self movement – using tech to track and feedback on personal data.
Late I might be, but right now I can’t get enough of the new addition to my wrist – my FitBit Flex.
If you’ve not heard of them they are a fancy pedometer and sleep tracker which also allow you to track other activity and health data (such as calories consumed and water drunk) through the online or app dashboards. You can use it just to track your own data and improve your own fitness and health or you can link up with friends also using FitBits in order to add some competition (Carl Bembridge is currently owning me in our Weekend Warrior challenge).
Three weeks into wearing it on my wrist and I can see I am woeful at reaching the recommended daily 10,000 steps. Long commutes by car and being mainly desk based means that most week days I can hit around half of that if I’m lucky. So, the gadget has tracked the data and delivered it to me. It’s provided a little knowledge along with it (that 10,000 steps a day is a good healthy goal) and it doesn’t take much analysis to pop these two things together and start making little changes to help me move toward that goal. This has led to parking further away from the office and making sure I get up and go outside for a walk at least three lunchtimes a week (and I’m lucky I can step straight out of the office and walk along the banks of the River Trent meaning it’s doing my soul good too!).
But what about the sleep tracking? I can’t deny that this is really interesting. You tap-tap-tap and the Flex’s lights change to say you’ve headed into sleep mode and then when you wake it and sync in the morning there is all kinds of data to delve into. It tells you how long you took to fall to sleep, how long you were asleep (or more correctly how long the Flex was in sleep mode), how many restless periods there were, how many awake. It pops it all onto a beautifully coloured graph. Initially at least it seems the secrets of sleep are all revealed…
But there’s some bits that are missing from making the really useful; the knowledge, the analysis and the path between where you are now and where you want to be. After the presentation of the raw data there is nothing…no indication of whether you’re sleeping too little (or too much), whether there’s any pattern to when you’re restless or awake, whether any of this is good or worthy of further investigation. There’s a lot of data trees to look at but there is no sense of the wood they surely must form.
So while it’s interesting I have started to question how useful it is to me in the longer term. Is quantifying my self, tracking my personal data, helping me become better in some way? Not on it’s own, not without that path to goals being illuminated by knowledge and analysis.
In that respect my personal data is no different to any other quantatative data you could track – social media stats or website traffic, say. There are vast amounts of numerical data you can pull from the various systems and tools used to manage digital outputs but it generally needs some human intervention in order to place meaning on it and then translate that current position into a step on a journey toward some goal.
Data is wonderful – it is possibilities waiting to be explored, knowledge waiting to be discovered. But it needs a commitment, it needs to be understood. To get the valuable rewards, what I’m learning, is that the data alone is not enough. You have to be prepared to learn around the data to reach for your goals, and become more than just a number (I am NOT A NUMBER).
Anyway…who else has a FitBit and fancies a step challenge?