The Quantified Self

Online apps can now track our moods, relationships, exercise and health. We look at the “Digital Self,” and where it’s taking us.

photo illustration (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

photo illustration (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

There’s a vision out there, which you may or may not share, of a digital self.  A quantified self.  That is, the human body and life – maybe yours – tracked and measured and monitored 24/7 by wireless apps – in a wrist band, on your belt, in your bag – gathering data on you.

Your blood pressure.  Your heart rate.  Your sleep patterns.  Your exercise.  Your diet.  Your moods.    Your habits.  Your life.  Enthusiasts greet that vision – that  reality – like the next step in evolution.  We will know ourselves.  And be transformed.  Skeptics wonder.

This hour, On Point:  becoming the quantified, digital self.

-Tom Ashbrook


Gary Wolf, co-founder of the Quantified Self Movement, which has followers nationally and internationally and grew out of a blog started in 2008 that helps users find apps and devices to track almost everything about themselves.

Eric Topol, professor in the Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine at The Scripps Institute of Medicine. He’s the author of the new book The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How The Digital Revolution Will Create Better Healthcare.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times “Humans make errors. We make errors of fact and errors of judgment. We have blind spots in our field of vision and gaps in our stream of attention. Sometimes we can’t even answer the simplest questions. Where was I last week at this time? How long have I had this pain in my knee? How much money do I typically spend in a day? These weaknesses put us at a disadvantage. We make decisions with partial information. We are forced to steer by guesswork. We go with our gut.”

Technology Review  “Do you know how much REM sleep you got last night? New types of devices that monitor activity, sleep, diet, and even mood could make us healthier and more productive.”

The Atlantic “This may sound like a lot of information for a very small person, but it’s typical grist for apps designed to tally a baby’s every blink and burp and sniffle, in hopes of charting his development over time. Among Baby Connect’s competitors are Total Baby, Baby Log, iBabyLog, Evoz, and the new Bedtime app from Johnson’s Baby, as well as Web-based programs such as Trixie Tracker (which an enterprising stay-at-home dad named after his daughter).”

Life-Quantifying Apps

Here’s a selection of apps and programs that can help quantify your life.

  • Sleep Cycle The Sleep Cycle alarm clock is a bio-alarm clock that analyzes your sleep patterns and wakes you when you are in the lightest sleep phase. It aims to make you wake up more refreshed.
  • Facebook Timeline The social networking site now includes a timeline feature that puts your interactions with the site and your network of friends in chronological order.
  • Fitbit A machine that tracks your sleep and physical activity.
  • Meal Snap Take a photo of the food you eat and this app — amazingly — can figure out how many calories you’ve consumed.
  • Honestly Now helps you make decisions by getting you the answers you want to your burning questions.
  • What Pulse This app tracks your keyboard and mouse use.
  • Mood Scope This app records your daily mood, tracks it over time, and can be integrated with your friends — with the aim of improving your well-being.
  • Mint An online tool to track your financial transactions.
  • Waterlogged This app keeps track of how much water you’re drinking each day.
  • My Pregnancy Today Track your pregnancy with this app.
  • Baby Connect records information about your newborn: feeding (bottle, nursing, solid, pumping), diapers, sleep, mood, activities, milestones, health, medicines, vaccines, photos, and more.
  • Azumio This app measures and records your stress levels.

Excerpt: The Creative Destruction of Medicine

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