So it seems that what I call “personal analytics” or “quantified self” is also called “life-logging” out in the wild. As regular readers know, I have a kind of fascination with this. I collect quite a bit of data about my life:
- My activity (how much I walk, how active I am, etc.)
- My writing (how much I write, how much I blog, how many keystrokes I make)
- My reading (how much I read, how long it takes me, etc.)
I see a lot of people out there tracking other things, and two of the most common other things I see people tracking are food and mood.
I have tried to track both, and have been overwhelmingly unsuccessful. I think there are two reasons for this, one for food and one for mood.
For food, the reason is pretty straightforward: it takes too much time. I’ve tried it with the FitBit app, for instance, and although there is a nice interface and some shortcuts that you can use, it still takes too long to make it worthwhile to capture the data. First, I have to remember to do it. Second, I have to take the time to do it accurately.
For mood, the problem is different: it is entirely subjective, based on subjective measures, like your own opinion about your mood. Unlike steps, or activity levels, which are objective measures of activity, mood can be influenced by, well, mood.
It seems to me that for lifelogging, the things we track fall into two categories:
- Automated logging
- Manual logging
I steer away from manual logging (with one exception) because the real beauty of life-logging, or quantified-self, whatever you want to call it, is that when it is done right, you should not have to think about it.
Part of why the FitBit Flex and the Nike Fuel bands are so successful are for this very reason. You wear these devices and you don’t have to take any action. They collect the data, they sync automatically, and if you have some coding skill, you can pull down the data and analyze it in an automated way.
Not so with food track, which requires not only active input from the user, but some way of reminding yourself to track the information. My guess is that, with few exceptions, food tracking datasets are significantly more incomplete than their activity counterparts.
This is not to say that at some point in the future, capturing this information will not be automated. It may be possible. But until it is more automated than it is right now, I won’t be tracking it. It is probably a little easier to track mood and there are dozens of apps available to help you do it, but again, it is a subjective measure, and I have yet to see an application where such a subjective measure provides real value. Indeed, it may be useful to correlate other data, and if so, it may ultimately become unnecessary.