I stumbled upon an app the other day called Instant. It is a nifty little “lifestyle application” that measures your cellphone use by counting the number of unlocks you do through the day, the number of minutes you spend using the device, the number of minutes you spend on each individual application and the number of minutes of walking you do. The purpose of the app is help users achieve more balance between the time they spend on their digital device and the time spent interacting with the “real world”A.
Although not a complex app, in the simplicity of its measures a profound statement is made about our relationship with technology. It is an irony for the times, that we have come to a point where we are now using technology to manage our relationship with technology. The idea of the app stems from a movement called the Quantified Self.
The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical)
The notion of the Quantified Self is nothing new. We have been doing this sort of thing since we had the ability to count, whether it be for fitness, health, finances or other. If we could count it we did it. Where things have changed in recent years however, is with our ability to data mine out daily activities using the technology in our pocket.
Personally I am a big fan of personal data mining apps related to fitness. Apps such as FitBit, Strava and Garmin can harvest an astounding amount of data from my daily activity. With FitBit I can count the number of steps I take, floors I have climbed, nutrition in the food I eat and even my heart rate throughout the day. When I go cycling, my Garmin App collects data on all my rides including kilometers ridden, route taken, average speed, elevation climbed, cadence, heart rate and more. The amount of data I can collect on my physical activity is astounding and has been very useful in managing my health. If I am ignoring my health, (which I do between October 31 and January 1’st) The data makes it glaringly obvious how far in the tank I have gone and if I am training for something, the data is fantastic for helping me prepare.
The other thing I quantify is my spending and again this is nothing new. People have been budgeting for years but today using an app to track your spending, the metrics you can generate on that spending is astounding. By using a spend tracking app I have gotten my Starbucks habit under control, almost eliminated buying my lunch, along with a myriad of other spending ills that tracking with paper and pencil never managed to do.
The obvious question now is, how have we gotten to the point where we need to quantify ourselves in order to lead a balanced life? Well as much as I hate to say it, we are a society that is driven to imbalance through the demands of the jobs we have, the cost of the lives we lead, the crazy family life we create and the technology we use. If you want to be part of the “modern world” you no longer have the luxury to just be; to live in the moment or to live a simple unencumbered life. Sure there are places and situations where this is still possible but it isn’t a practical choice for many of the 7 billion people living in this world.
What I would like to think is that quantifying ourselves using the technology in hand, gives us the opportunity to take back some control of the crazy lives many of us are entrenched in. Instant is a perfect example of an application that helps us break free from our unhealthy, compulsive use of our personal devices. Perhaps it will be the beginning of regaining the balance in our lives we once had, moving away from being used by technology, back toward being a user of technology.
Quantified Self? Count me in!