My nephew asked me the other day “How fast can a human run?” My first thought was of the Olympics and the 100 meter dash and I was quickly trying to make the conversion in my head to miles per hour. Then I thought, “Wait! I know my average speed.” I look at this information all the time.
I am training for my first half marathon and use NikePlus and RunKeeper to track my progress. I absolutely love these applications and have become addicted to tracking, analysing and sharing my personal running stats. Both of these applications do an excellent job of visualizing the data – distance travelled, calories burned, and average pace – which makes it fun and easy to share. I even received a “speeding ticket” the other day from Notch.me an integrated app with RunKeeper when I hit a new pace milestone.
This addiction to data has led me to start tracking other items in my life. I now track my sleep patterns with an app called Sleep Cycle. HeartMath checks my daily stress levels by using the camera on my iPhone to take my resting heart rate. This tracking isn’t limited to health data, I have used Klout to measure my influence in social media, InMaps by Linkedin to see a visual representation of my connections and Mint to recognize patterns in my spending. The awareness this tracking provides has led to personal growth and positive change in all of these areas.
And I am not alone. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project states that
Seven in ten (69%) U.S. adults track a health indicator for themselves or a loved one and many say this activity has changed their overall approach to health.
Some people go much further in their health tracking: founded by Kevin Kelly and and Gary Wolf of Wired Magazine, the Quantified Self Movement has exploded over the last 5 years starting with the initial group of 15 in the Bay area to an organization of thousands that spans the US and Canada. Meet-ups, where members get together to discuss what they are tracking, how they are tracking and what they are learning, are popping up all over North America. The Quantified Self Motto: “Self Knowledge Through Numbers.”
However, according to the Pew study, not everyone is taking advantage of the thousands of new apps and medical tracking devices available with only 1 in 5 people using some form of technology to track their health data. A lot of this tracking remains informal with 49% saying they keep track of progress in their heads.
Passive data tracking applications, like Moves which tracks your daily movement, can augment the ‘in your head’ tracking. There is absolutely no input required, the iPhone app just automatically records any walking, cycling, running that you do. It’s a diary of your daily movements, a summary of your everyday exercise to help you think about your life in a new way. Knowing how many steps it is to the office might encourage you to walk there more often. Even the smallest changes can make a huge difference and that is generally where people start when making choices that lead to long time healthy habits.
So how do we encourage people to use these tools and technology when we know the data has such a powerful impact on their motivation for positive change?
I think apps like Moves that allow users to ease into self tracking without a lot of effort are a great start. Beautiful interfaces and fluid navigation are critical. For every app I have on my iPhone , I have downloaded and deleted 6 more. If it’s not engaging, easy to use and provide a new and valuable service – it’s gone and usually within the first 10 minutes. Stunning visualizations of relevant data are also important to enable users to see usually boring stats in a fun and creative way, motivating them to improve those numbers and share with their supporters.