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A Different Kind of Quantified Self

MIsfit Shine

Misfit Shine “activity monitor”

I just got a personal tracking device that tells me how many calories I’ve burned, how much sleep I got last night, and how many more steps I need to take to meet my daily goal. Lots of people I know are busily keeping track of their activities with these sorts of devices, competing with each other to get the highest daily total.

As I fiddled with the device and got it set up, I wondered if it would be possible to create a similar device that would track things like how much carbon we each add to the environment, how much waste we generate, how much water we use—and how much we’ve done during the day to mitigate our negative impact on the planet. The daily goal: to get as close to impact-neutral as possible.

We’re all so busy focusing on ourselves and tracking our “progress.” It seems awfully short-sighted, considering that our impact on the environment will ultimately be our undoing. Day by day, month by month, year by year, each of us builds our environmental legacy. If we tracked our impact on the environment every day the way we track the number of steps we take or the amount of sleep we get, would we change our ways?

For example, if you could easily track how much water you’re using during your daily shower, would you take shorter (and fewer) showers? If you knew how many plastic bags you tossed into the garbage every day/month/year, would you be more likely to remember to bring reusable bags with you to the grocery store? If your furnace could tell you how much heating oil you used each day to heat your house, and what the impact of pumping, refining, delivering, and burning that oil was, would you turn the thermostat down a few degrees?

With the Internet of Things becoming more of a reality every day, perhaps in the not-so-distant future there will be a smartphone app that connects to all of the intelligent devices in our lives, tracking things like our use of water, how much energy we’ve consumed by heating our houses and driving to work, and so forth. Add to that some automated way of tracking the plastics that move in and out of our lives, and a few other features, and such an app could paint a fairly accurate picture of the footprints we leave behind.

Like the activity monitor programs, there could be competitive goals and community recognition. It could be gamified; it could be fun. And it would definitely make a difference.



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