I just received a text from my cell phone company notifying me that I was almost out of data for the month.
Data is one of those life mysteries that is important to regulate and measure, but is impossibly difficult for the average person to regulate and measure. What caused my data to be higher than usual this month? Perhaps it is the “smart travel study” app that was likely running the whole time I was in the car for six hours? Maybe it was the extra podcasts I listened to while going on longer walks with the dogs? Or something else entirely. I really don’t know what caused it, making it guesswork to try and change my actions.
Electricity is the same way. A few months ago, my electric bill was significantly higher than the previous year. I racked my brain trying to figure out why. What had I done differently? The answer turned out not to be my behavior, but my leaking air conditioner coil that was working extra hard in attempt to provide cool without coolant. I didn’t guess that, so didn’t (initially) fix it, leaving me with two giant bills before the A/C died and I discovered the cause of excessive energy use.
Food, exercise and calories are also nebulous when trying to truly measure impact. Yes, the donuts have more calories than the apple, but it is difficult to know what really makes the difference in weight loss or gain. If you go for a run does it mitigate eating a piece of pie? Or if you had to choose between the evening glass of wine or dessert is there a better choice? Is the salad really a low calorie option?
There are so many new gizmos and apps that attempt to quantify aspects of life. But the text about data usage, my electricity bill and the bathroom scale all communicate about the past. By the time you get to that point, the damage is done.
I want new ways to link data to immediate choices. An app that says: “If you download this movie, it will take this many bytes of your data plan.” A thermostat that says: “If you turn the A/C down 3 degrees, next month’s electric bill will cost you $X more” or a control panel that shows before you print what it will cost in electricity/ink/paper. Or a fork or fitness app that can tell you: “if you eat this, you’ll have to exercise for X minutes to maintain your weight.”
Instead of using more power to learn what you did, try to invest your energy in systems to track what can make a difference in your present.