In the past, the methods of quantitative assessment were laborious and arcane. Nowadays there are clever ways to extract streams of numbers from ordinary human activities.
We have pedometers in the soles of our shoes and phones that can post our location as we move around town. We can tweet what we eat into a database and subscribe to Web services that track our finances. There are sites and programs for monitoring mood, pain, blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, cognitive alacrity, menstruation, and prayers. Even sleep—a challenge to self-track, obviously, since you’re unconscious—is yielding to the skill of the widget maker.
Much of the data-gathering can be automated, and the record-keeping and analysis can be delegated to a host of simple Web apps, an example is the Quantified Self.
There are some specific tools that open possibilities for personal tracking in areas of life that had always seemed inaccessible to quantitative methods, like emotions. Happy Factor, a Facebook app that randomly pings you with a text message, to which you respond with a number indicating your happiness level. There are protocols for measuring mental fitness that take less than five minutes to complete and provide a baseline for experiments on your brain’s agility. The Web site CureTogether lets users log an enormous range of conditions, symptoms, and feelings. Modern self-tracking systems can measure our bodies, our minds, and our movements.
The self-tracking can be much bigger than learning things from one’s own numbers, but also can be a promise of contributing for understanding and generates much more knowledge about society.