It was only a matter of time before the obsessive accumulation of information made possible by technology, aka “big data”, found more personal application than companies looking for better ways to market their products or election campaigns trying to learn more about voters.
The cult of measuring everything now extends to every step you take and every move you make. But instead of The Police, it’s a sleek little gadget or an app that’s watching you. Adherents of the “quantified self” movement record their moods, sleeping patterns and activity levels, keeping track of how much alcohol or caffeine they drink. They believe that recording these metrics about their everyday activities — self-tracking, as it is also called — can help them improve their lives. According to a 2013 report by market research firm ABI, there will be an estimated 485 million wearable devices shipped by 2018, with 61 per cent of all devices in the wearable market being fitness or activity trackers, and this doesn’t capture the people who will be using dedicated apps on their smartphones to collect health data.
Gadgets like the Jawbone or FitBit are already popular and can be synced with smartphones to centralise data. On Wednesday, Google announced the launch of Google Fit, its own attempt at a platform that will aggregate, analyse and report on data provided by wearable devices, sensors and user-provided input. For its part, Apple has already announced that the next iteration of its mobile operating system will come equipped with a HealthKit that can log basics like exercise and sleep activity, and also pull data from, say, blood pressure monitors.
With populations ageing and the cost of healthcare increasing, there is likely to be greater emphasis on monitoring and prevention of disease, with patients expected to take an active role in maintaining wellness. Today, self-tracking may seem like just another fad, but it could one day be as inevitable as email.