From counting our steps to tracking our alcohol intake, new technology allows us to quantify our own behaviour. But is the practice as healthy as we'd like to believe?by Barbara Speed / January 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
Yesterday, I drank three units of alcohol, walked 10,215 steps, ran for 0km, slept for 6.75 hours, spent £19.20, meditated for five minutes, spent 2 hours and 40 minutes looking at my phone, and had a heart rate of 72 beats per minute at 3.20pm. I could tell you where each of these figures lay compared to my personal average, or my results for the same day last month.
I’m not trying in any concerted way to lose weight, spend less, or drink less. I don’t think of myself as wellness-obsessed, or even perfectionist. I’m not training for a marathon. I merely track everything, in a way that, to someone living even five years ago, would look bizarre and pathologically obsessive at the least.
But it isn’t just me. In 2018, over 120m wearable sensors designed to measure our steps, exercise and heart rates, such as Fitbits and smartwatches, were sold worldwide, up a fifth on the previous year. Data company Flurry Analytics found that health and fitness app usage had grown by 330 per cent in the three years to 2017. The same analysis found that a quarter of active users were using these apps more than 10 times a week. The demographics, meanwhile, are much as you might expect: a US survey found that younger people with higher incomes were the most hooked.
And hooked is the operative word, although many of these devices and apps are about jolting us into better habits and away from addictive ones, such as alcohol. The flagship feature on Apple’s most recent mobile operating system update was “Screen Time,” a feature that logs how much time you spend on your phone and sends you a weekly report on your time-wasting. We have, it seems, collectively reached the head-spinning point where the preferred way to face up to the depths of our smartphone addiction is by using that very device to track how compulsive our use has become.
My “gateway drug” to a serious tracking habit was the Health app on my first iPhone, which automatically counted my steps. It was satisfying to know that they were being logged, and I enjoyed the little graph on which I could see my daily levels of activity bobbing up and down.