The concept of collecting data about one’s life isn’t new, but technologies to which we have casual access, today, makes the process a lot more accurate and passive than any of our pre-digital ancestors could have managed.
There are pros and cons to this accuracy and passiveness: most such devices measure one or a few things really well, but the data being collected might not line up with what we think we’re measuring.
Sleep-trackers, for instance, keep tabs on a bundle of vital signs that are gatherable using smartwatches and other external sensors, but that doesn’t necessarily tell us everything we need to know about the variables influencing our sleep quality, or how well we’re actually sleeping according to all possible, collectible data (using the more sophisticated sensors you might find in a sleep lab, for instance).
Also: the baselines that tend to be used to calibrate such devices (and define “good” sleep) don’t apply equally to everyone (or in some cases, anyone
Similarly, step- and cycling-trackers measure capturable data related to these behaviors, but not the totality of the behavior itself, and a lot of assumptions (i.e. how many calories a person will burn per step taken) inform everything from the device interface to the data we might then use to recalibrate our behaviors in the future, possibly for the “better” according to those specific metrics, but for the worse, overall.
All of which is to say, there are some warranted concerns about lifelogging
, but such technologies and habits built around them can be useful if applied thoughtfully and with an understanding of what they report and what they don't—and what we can thus perceive and what we cannot.
This type of tracking can also be useful for charting progress over time, so long as we track the right things and use it as a productive incentive to do better, rather than a flog with which we punish ourselves for not improving faster.
Despite my obvious skepticism about this space, I’m also a big fan of seeing how people use these tools, the systems they set up to keep track of progress, and how they visualize (or otherwise arrange) the resulting data to help them glean meaning from it.
This guy has been lifelogging a variety of things for a decade, and has done a great job both collecting data and visualizing it, and explaining how and why he uses it.