Want To Make Your Life Better? Keep Track Of It

The Quantified Self movement promotes something called life logging. That means tracking all kinds of details of your life in order to improve it. To find out more about the topic, David Greene talks to two people involved with life logging: Kitty Ireland, who works for a life logging app called Saga, and to David Goldstein, who turned to life logging with the help of a coach.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

These days, some people are trying to improve their health with gadgets and apps. They gather data about eating habits and exercise, and that's just the beginning in the Quantified Self movement. It promotes life logging, which aims to improve life by tracking as many details as possible. We spoke to Kitty Ireland, who works for a life logging app called Saga; and David Goldstein, who turned to life logging with the help of a coach, Josh Manly.

He wanted to control his weight and chronic pain after some catastrophic health problems, including cancer and a bus accident. Can you give me a concrete example, I mean of something that you've learned that you feel like has really helped you have a healthier life?

DAVID GOLDSTEIN: Absolutely. A great example, I would say, is something as simple as coffee. When Josh and I first sat down, he asked me, you know, about how much sugar are you getting? And I was like, oh, I don't eat candy, I don't eat any of that. You know, I maybe have sugar with my coffee. Then I was shocked to see that I was drinking something like four or five cups of coffee a day and having two to three sugars in every single cup of coffee.

GREENE: How is this different than, say, programs like Weight Watchers where you record the amount that you're eating and keep track of it?

GOLDSTEIN: I'd say it's built along a lot of the same lines. I'd say where this kind of varies is trying to really hone in on the impact of the food on other parts of your health as well. So with my chronic back pain, if we were, kind of, taking care of fruits, vegetables, and nuts and getting a lot of water, my back pain tended to do better on those days.

GREENE: So you would be recording how your back feels on a day. You would also be recording what you were eating and drinking and you could start to see connections and know what you could put into your body that might make your back feel better that day.

GOLDSTEIN: That's exactly right. We also experimented with levels of exercise. And while I didn't notice an improvement in my back pain, like, the same day I exercised, what I did notice is after a couple of weeks of regular exercise we started to see the back pain levels dip down.

GREENE: Kitty, can you give me a window into - you actually work for a company that makes Saga, this life logging app, and you say that it records everything. I mean how does it work?

KITTY IRELAND: Yeah. So your phone, if you have a Smartphone, has all kinds of censors. GPS, microphone. Android actually uses a barometer now, so we can, for instance, tell whether you're indoors or outdoors.

GREENE: So it's collecting information all these sorts of ways.

IRELAND: Right. You can bring in data from Facebook, from Twitter, from all kinds of health and fitness apps. Mood Panda is one of the apps that we integrate so you can look at, you know, where was I when I had that really good mood? Who was I with? What was I doing?

GREENE: I'm feeling bad for the friend who I find out that I was not feeling that great day and I was consistently at lunch with that person.

(LAUGHTER)

IRELAND: Yeah. I know. You really have to question some of your relationships after a while if you're always miserable around that person.

GREENE: It seems like a key to this is technology, but you spoke at a recent conference about finding your grandmother's diary and realizing that she in a way was a life logger as well.

IRELAND: This year I dug up a 1942 diary that my grandmother kept the year she turned 16.

GREENE: 1942.

IRELAND: 1942. So there's all this great wartime stuff in there. The sailors and the soldiers are all coming through. All of the boys, she was seeing at the time. And there were a lot of boys, she was seeing at the time.

(LAUGHTER)

IRELAND: I was shocked, honestly. Like, she has a list in the back and there are 57 boys she's kissed. And I'm just like Grandma, really? Actually, that was the data that I chose to extract from the diary, was her mentions of boys. And it was really fascinating because she fell in love with this one boy, Zip. And most boys were mentioned up to about 20 times in a month.

GREENE: OK.

IRELAND: Zip went up to about 50. And this happened before she started saying she was falling for him, so, you know, it took a couple of weeks for her to catch up with how much she liked this guy.

GREENE: I guess we are just reading about the boys who she wanted to put in the diary. Modern life logging might've seen every one. There might've been others.

(LAUGHTER)

IRELAND: Right. She writes all of this mundane stuff which, you know, when I was a teenager I certainly didn't think about writing down the weather or what I ate that day, and she's keeping track of all this stuff. And so as I was reading it was like, wow, Grandma was kind of a life logger. You know, if she had access to the technology that we do now she really would have probably created a complete archive.

GREENE: OK. One more question for you both. If someone heard about this and then said, my god, this is kind of creepy, what would you tell them if they're skeptical of this?

GOLDSTEIN: I would tell them that it's exactly the information you and your doctor need to get yourself to be healthy and it doesn't have to be anything more than that. So it's only what you want to share. It's only with whom you want to share it with. And it can be data that can add so much to your life that the extreme remote risk that you're putting your data at is very well worth it.

IRELAND: So what I think is creepy is the fact that there is data being collected about me that I don't know is being collected. A life logging tool gives back some of that control to you, lets you use the data. And to David's point, that's really what this is all about. It's like what is the value you get out of it?

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, corporations already have an unbelievable amount of data on us that they use to improve themselves and their bottom line, you know, and I do think it's about time for us to start collecting our own data and use them for our own advantage as well.

GREENE: Listen, thank you both so much. It's really been a pleasure.

IRELAND: Thank you.

GOLDSTEIN: Thank you.

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GREENE: Based on my life logging, I have said the following four times this morning. The words are: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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