How Did Life Get So Quantified?
From Step Counts to Sleep Scores: Weighing the Psychological Benefits and Pitfalls of Constant Personal Monitoring
Not long ago, my trusty Fitbit started to quit on me. I was walking around my neighborhood, and white lines streaked across the screen, signaling its impending demise. It had been with me for nearly two years — an ancient artifact in today's fast-paced tech world. This little gadget had become my 24/7 life monitor: steps, activity, sleep, physical readiness, O2 levels, heart rate — if Fitbit could quantify it, you bet I was tracking and analyzing it- out of pure curiosity but also morbid fascination with how my body worked day in and day out. I laughed to myself as I thought, "Like a falling tree in the forest, does a walk even count if you can't count the steps?"
As the days went on, I felt uneasy about how uncomfortable I was not being able to check in with my daily metrics. Was my daily step count down? Was I hitting my exercise zone goals? How was my sleep score? How could I really know what I was feeling without hard cold data in front of me?
Sure, it sounds trivial. There are way bigger problems in the world than a malfunctioning activity tracker and an overzealous compulsion to check personal stats. But that's just it — how had this small device become such a massive part of how I perceive my own well-being?
I know I can't be the only one addicted to my tracker and quantifying my every move. In 2022, the fitness tracker market had a global value of 44.8 billion USD, with a projected 84 million users worldwide. It's a big industry for a reason, as the "well tech" concept has become more commercialized.
What are we all gaining — or losing — by reducing the mundane moments of our lives to a bunch of numbers and graphs?
How We Got Here
It's easy to think that this whole "life by the numbers" concept is a new phenomenon, but that notion simply isn't true. People's fascination with personal metrics predates the modern digital age.
Pedometers rose to popularity in the '60s, offering a basic way to keep up with steps for health purposes. In the '70s, the first wearable sensors with wireless…