Blog Post

Self Tracking

Self tracking as defined by the Oxford Dictionary: The practice of systematically recording information about one’s diet, health, or activities, typically by means of a smartphone, so as to discover behavioral patterns that may then be adjusted to help improve one’s physical or mental well-being.


Self tracking is an action but also a tool humans can use to learn about themselves generally through electronic means like our smart phones, apps, and fitbits. However,  technology hasn’t always been involved with collecting patterns of the self. Benjamin Franklin kept a personal notebook in which he tracked his daily routines and “virtues” and analyzed multiple days, weeks, and months worth of information on himself to help him improve in areas he found he needed some working on. Franklin would set a goal for the week and try to make a conscious effort to work on a particular virtue and then at the end of the week note on his improvement and whether or not avoiding one task resulted in an increase in another virtue. Before smartphones had calorie counters, I know many people that would just write down what they ate in a notebook everyday in order to become more conscious of their diet and health. So meticulous self tracking where one collect all the information manually seems like a pretty useful practice. But can the same be said about the technology and apps that collect information all the time?


Self tracking isn’t really something I place a lot of importance on because we don’t use it the same way Franklin did. Automatic tracking instead of intentional, manual tracking is what’s  popularized now using today’s technology. Many self tracking applications are granted permission from the user to use his or her location, GPS, and camera upon being downloaded, and then begins collecting data and tracking its user even when the user forgets to open the app. I know iPhones have a built-in Health app that also monitors steps and how many flights of stairs a user climbs automatically without ever needing to ask any permissions from the phone user because the application is built into the iphone. 


When I remember to open the app on my phone called “Pacer,” I’m not really impressed to see it tell me how many steps I’ve walked today — I’m more curious than anything.


The Pacer app is a fitness, self tracking app and I originally downloaded it because I was curious about how many steps I was taking in a day. The app uses GPS and motion sensors to track how many steps you’re taking each day, how many calories that equates to, how many miles that equates to, and how much total time you’ve spent walking or running. The app allows you to set a fitness goal based on your height, weight, and BMI with a suggested amount of steps you should be taking each day to reach that goal. The app will rank and compare your days of the week based on how active you were. The bar graph accessible to the user at the end of the week visually depicts how active the user was during the week, on what days, and during which hours. While all those features are cool, if someone is casually using the app instead of using it with a goal in mind, the numbers and graphs can serve to make one feel inadequate in their lower step counts. Users seem to benefit most from fitness apps if using them with a weight or fitness goal in mind.


There are also suggested fitness programs within the app such as a program to “walk off fat quickly.” Each program has a certain number of workouts in its circuit and runs anywhere from six to eight weeks. To access any other programs, you have to pay for an upgrade within the app.


To use the app and set your fitness goal, you have to put in your age, gender, height, BMI, weight, and how much weight you’d like to lose over a period of time. Your fitness goal is set by this data and only needs to be put in once, but you can update your weight and goal at any time. There is a walking/running function button where you press start and for the duration of your run/walk, a gps maps out your route so you can see, geographically, how far you’ve gone. At first I never used this function because I was only curious about how many steps I take as a student navigating a large college campus and wanted to casually check my number of steps. After awhile, I started using Pacer to monitor my activity once I started to try running. The app shows me how far I ran and what route I took based on GPS and marks five minute intervals out loud by announcing to the runner how long they’ve been running. I found I was using more of the functions of the Pacer app while monitoring a workout instead of casual walking.

The app suggests having different fitness goals that are connected to its programs like the “walk off fat quickly” program. This would encourage the user to use the built-in features. It also suggests putting in standard goals like “ab workout” that the app will give you reminder notifications to work on in your own time.

I’m not sure what the future of this app would be, but I think it’d be an effective way for people to track their level of fitness.

Every now and then after having a day with a higher count of steps, the app will suggest posting my steps to Facebook. I don’t like this function and wish the app didn’t include it because I don’t care for all my friends to see its data. in fact, the only time I care to look at the graphs and charts it produced are when I’ve intentionally recorded a running fitness goal and let it record my workout, or when I enter in a workout after I’ve completed it but  forgot to let the app know before I started the workout. 


There’s a growing trend in using self tracking fitness technology and sharing results and goals on social media or competing against friends. I know users of the fitbit watch that compare numbers with friends and try to out-step their friend. While that’s useful motivation, it can quickly become competitive and more about outdoing another person instead of focusing on one’s own health and fitness.


As a whole, I don’t really like self tracking. It doesn’t necessarily make me feel happier if I walk more on certain days, but it definitely makes me feel worse about myself when I don’t come anywhere close to my daily goal. I'm curious about my steps, but I don't like how easy it is to become obsessive about it. That's why I don't open the app too often apart from when I’m logging a run — and even then I care more about how long I run instead of how many steps I took. I really don’t care to see other people’s progress on social media and I find their information irrelevant. It just seems like they’re bragging to me. Because self tracking is all personal data, I don’t see a clear reason why other people would want to know about how many steps I took on Facebook, but to each his own. 

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