Confessions of a quantified self cheater

Dear quantified self:

I regret that I have to tell you something that might be painful. I’ve been cheating on you. Yesterday I ate a bag of M&Ms and didn’t include it in my daily food tracker for my Fitbit One.  The day before that, I omitted a gingerbread latte.

Quelle horreur. Yeah, you readers don’t care what I eat. But with the rise of an increasing amount of people quantifying every aspect of their lives with fitness trackers, GPS gadgets, and other data-emitting tools, this made me wonder: are these quantified people we’re creating in the virtual world really our true selves? Or, are they — like the extra-polished social media selves in our filtered photos on Instagram and our Facebook walls — people that are noticeably better: in better shape, slimmer and more diligent than our actual selves.

Fitbit OneOn one hand, truly automated data doesn’t lie. When I step on the scale of the Wi-Fi-connected Aria, my weight is automatically entered into the Fitbit dashboard and synced with my Fitbit One and mobile app. Likewise, the Fitbit knows how many steps I’ve taken in a day, and counts them without my input.

But with more room for manual monkeying around, the easier it becomes to play with the data. When I entered my weight manually into the Fitbit system before I bought the Aria scale, I naturally, and subconsciously, fudged it down a few pounds. I think that’s just human nature. A couple days ago, I was several-hundred steps short of my daily Fitbit step goal, and I (only half kiddingly) asked a friend who was going on a walk if they could take my Fitbit with them.

People who want to quantify themselves want to be better people. That’s usually why they’re counting their steps, cutting their calorie intake, or tracking their energy consumption or carbon footprint. Yet it’s that same drive that prods some of us to hedge on a quantified self that’s actually meeting our goals.

Most people aren’t going to make up a person that is so significantly different from their actual selves. That would be silly: if the gap was really large, the exercise would defeat the purpose of quantifying yourself and would be useless to making you a better person.

But it’s that gray area that’s interesting.

It’s also that gray area that is a good predictor of who you want to be. It’s your goal person. So, essentially it’s still a part of a new kind of virtual identity that’s becoming more common place on the internet.

As entrepreneur Edward Aten, who founded, explained in our limited run RoadMap Book, the internet is now a platform for identity in an entirely new way — an identity that is fluid and that is filtered, but a new kind of identity just the same.

So maybe I’m not actually cheating on my quantified self. Maybe I’m just trying to create a better quantified virtual self. That’s my goal, and I will hope to eventually make that reality – it’ll just take a little time.

Okay, that makes me feel better.

Disclosure: True Ventures, which is an investor in GigaOM, is also an investor in Fitbit.