No Fun Tracking, If You Aren’t Improving

Posted on March 21, 2012 by


I recently read this interview of Stephen Wolfram which was inspired by his recent blog post about some of the personal data he has collected over the years.

He reveals that he has been tracking every email he has written, every phone call he has made and every keystroke he has entered on his computer over the last 20 years.

It left with me a feeling of “who cares.”  In fact I was more interested in Ernesto Ramirez’s interview questions than I was of Stephen’s responses.

As I have delved deeper into the Quantified Self movement I have realized that there are two major segments of participants:

Those that love computers, gadgets and data and think they might help them improve themselves, and

Those that love to improve themselves and think that computers, gadgets and data might help them.

Stephen Wolfram definitely falls in the first group and Ernesto and I definitely fall in the second group.  You can get a sense of this from his interview questions:

Q: You’ve obviously spent a lot of time with your personal data, and mention that you have even more in reserve that you didn’t expand upon. What was the most surprising thing you’ve learned in so far in your exploration?

Q: Now that you’ve looked at such a large portion of your longitudinal personal data I wonder if you’ve changed your behavior in any way. Was there any point during the analysis, or possibly during previous analyses of this or other data that helped you decide to change something in your life, and if yes, what was it?

Stephen’s answers fail to reveal the depth of introspection or awareness that you would expect from such a brilliant intellectual.

Personally I don’t see much reason in tracking data unless it is going to provide feedback which helps me become more self-aware, build good habits, learn something, or improve my life in other ways.  If I am tracking data and I am not learning anything from it  I stop collecting it.

I track my daily weight because I feel it gives me immediate feedback about my eating habits and helps me stay on track with moderate eating.

I track my nightly sleep with a Zeo because it motivates me to sleep more and reminds me when I didn’t get enough.

I track my daily activities with IDoneThis because it reminds me to make the most of every day.

I track my words written and my minutes of guitar practiced with Beeminder because it motivates me to keep making progress towards my long term goals.

I track a number of daily tasks with Tonic because it never forgets to remind me and is helping me build habits.

These are just a sample of the things I am trying to improve about myself through self-tracking.

As the technology continues to improve and become more ubiquitous I hope that more people realize that it can be a powerful tool for self improvement and isn’t just another way to archive one’s personal history.


If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy:

Beeminder – Holding Me Accountable

Tonic – Motivation, Tracking and Mindfulness

Self-Tracking / Quantified Self

Posted in: Self-Tracking