I’ve never been one for food diaries or counting calories. Truth be told, it always sounded very tedious and required too many numbers.
So when I was tasked with tracking something through Daytum.com as homework for class, I wasn’t feeling very inspired. This web service with the self-stated mission “to collect, categorize and communicate everyday data”, lost me at the word data. If I was going to track something personal for everyone else to see on the web, I didn’t want it to be my calorie total (hello leftover Halloween candy) or how many times I checked Facebook (approximately every three minutes). In the end, I decided on two things: the types of beverages I drank, and the minutes I spent meditating with an app I downloaded for this purpose.
For two weeks, I kept track of every sip and every guided meditation session.
Daytum’s data collection starts with a dashboard on the web or via their iPhone app. You create a display, choose how you want the information to show up (pie chart, timeline, etc.), and set up categories.
At first, it isn’t very helpful. A few little bars here, a chunky piece of pie there. But then trends emerge and Daytum starts to shine. It’s the aggregate of information that can be displayed in multiple ways that allows for useful comparisons.
Nicholas Feltron (co-founder of Daytum) tracks multiple aspects of his daily life and publishes them in an Annual Report. He’s been doing this since 2005. “I believe that the Annual Reports have encouraged a desire among readers to discover similar things about themselves,” Feltron writes on the Daytum site. “Of course this presents many obstacles. It can be hard and time-consuming to collect this information. The promise of Daytum is that it streamlines the data collection process and removes the design obstacles.”
My experience with Daytum was that I should have thought more about why I was tracking these two aspects before I took the time and effort to tally them. While it was worthwhile to learn that I am drinking way more coffee than I thought I was, it was disheartening to stare at my measly three meditation attempts.
Turns out, adding something to my daily routine is difficult and having it brought to light like this was surprisingly hard to swallow. My quantified self was giving me a complex.
So while Daytum is a good way to track personal data, I think we have to realize that quantifying our lives doesn’t change human nature. It can tell you some interesting trends in your daily life, but you might not want to track something if you’re not prepared to see the results in black and white.