Friday, March 02, 2012

Keeping Track of Everything

It is no secret that I suffer from gadgetophilia. What is a little surprising to me is my love of data. I always thought that tracking a paddle on GPS was useful while on the water, and it was fun to see your speed at the end of the trip. I never really thought I'd be interested in that data later.
A few years ago I got a Garmin Forerunner as a cycling computer. It track cadence, speed, heart rate, and your course. It also let's you down load the data to a computer for tracking your workouts. I figured what the heck, it would be cool to see where I've been riding. Now, I have three years of ride data and I constantly compare new rides with past rides to track my progress. It is a little bit of an obsession.
I've also been keeping track of my weight because my doctor told me it was the best way to diet. Seeing the trend line would keep me motivated. It never really worked, but I did it anyway. The graph was sort of neat. When our scale died a few weeks ago, I wanted one that would automatically track my weight. I ended up with the Withings scale. It records weight, BMI, and body composition data and automatically uploads it to the Web. I find this super cool and love looking at the graph.
This obsession with data extends to photos as well. I love the way iPhoto can show where a picture was taken and I love the fact that my iPhone automatically ads that information. It save me from compulsively adding the data manually. If I have to I do while I'm adding face data, because that is super cool too.
Initially I worried that maybe keeping track of all this stuff was unhealthy; it was just another time killing obsession. As I thought about it more I realized that it was just another form of journalling in a sense and that some of the data was actually helpful. In fact, human beings have been obsessed with keeping track of things forever. Technology just makes it easier.
I have always been a journal keeper. Writing things down started out as a crazy teenage dream about having source material for an autobiography for when I was famous. Then it became a creative outlet and a way to work out the stresses of life. The journal is also a good way to keep things in perspective. It provides a window to the past, both good and bad, that can help refocus what is happening in the present. It can also provide clues as to what is happening in the present-sort of like medical records.
The face and places data with the photos serves a similar role. It provides context for the pictures. It adds to the memory. It also makes the photos easier to find.
The workout data and the weight data doesn't serve a real memory purpose, but they do help in keeping track of your health. I can easily see that last summer I was in better shape than I am now. That is no surprise since the stationary bike is easier than a real bike. I can also easily see that I am in better shape at this year than I was at the same time last year. So, when I drag the real bike out of the garage, I will be able to gage what is a good starting point for training. When my health anxiety gets going good I can see proof that I'm in good physical shape.
I think that the data craze is here to stay and not just for me. Anyone can keep and track reams of data about themselves cheaply and easily. For a hundred dollars you can buy a wrist band that monitors your activity throughout the day and monitor the quality of your sleep. With a smartphone you do even more.
Applications like Facebook, Pintrest, and Intagram are more ways we keep records of our lives. They are taking the place of journals, folders, and photo albums. Just easier to update, store, and share.
Of course the downside of all this is that companies now have access to all of this information too. When it was written on paper in your drawer or in your bookcase, you controlled access to the information. Now Facebook, Google, Apple, Garmin, Fitbit, and other companies can use the data for their own ends. You just have to trust them to be good shepherds and not sell your data to the wolves.
That is probably easier with companies that view you as their customer instead of their product.... So it pays to know the business model of the companies who have your data.