Digital Self-Tracking: Why Aren’t We All Doing It?

April 5, 2016

By Greg Vachon, MD, MPH


Digital self-tracking is nifty. It’s cool. But what about when it is applied it to corporate wellness? Even if you give it away for free with optimal software, the uptake will be well under 50% and meaningful use after several months will be in the single digits. This should not come as a shock. We lead busy lives and digital self-tracking is yet another thing to do. Unless an individual’s personality and style already include diary entries and a love for timesheets, the likelihood of filling out digital tracking information is near zero over time.


As digital self-tracking becomes more passive in data acquisition and more integrated in our lives, it is possible that sustained use will rise. What if a device was integrated in our bed to track our sleep, and another in our sneakers? And what if gym check-ins were synched with an application that brought all of this data together and passively changed the messages we hear, the music we listen to, the lighting level, and the perceived cost of doing the right thing? Well, then we’d have digital self-tracking with impact.

But the creepiness factor will certainly be dialed up when passive acquisition becomes that superb and the data is fully integrated into our daily operations and impacts the choices we’re served up. In reality, most people would decline that sort of umbrella monitoring.


This all being said, self-tracking most assuredly helps some of the people some of the time, particularly during that initial fight when going against ingrained habits. And the potential for wider use once data acquisition and privacy are optimized should not be ignored. But self-tracking is not a mechanism to capture a broad swath of people over time or a broad swath of types of people in an employed population. It’s a nifty tool but it is not fundamentally needed for any of the three core pillars of wellness intervention: structural, relational, and economic (read the Three Pillars blog post here).

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