Mobile technology has granted researchers and ourselves access to unique sets of information about our lives. We can track our habits and see how our actions inform our overall well-being.
In a recent New York Times Magazine article called “We’re More Honest With Our Phones Than With Our Doctors,” staff writer Jenna Wortham explored this closeness we have with our connected devices and how this relationship can yield positive effects. We tend to be more honest with our devices.
“Our phones don’t just keep us in touch with the world,” writes Jenna Wortham, the New York Times Magazine staff writer. “They’re also diaries, confessional booths, repositories for our deepest secrets. Which is why researchers are leaping at the chance to work with the oceans of data we are generating, hoping that within them might be the answers to questions medicine has overlooked or ignored.”
One of these apps that allow help patients to know more about their health is Clue. Aimed at allowing women to track their menstrual cycles, Clue — and other health apps like it — make it easier for researchers to conduct studies. This last month, Wortham sat down with two researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.
The pair, in their 30s at the time, were studying the menstrual cycle of adolescent girls. Since they were working with teenagers, gaining accurate information on bodily functions would be difficult. One of the researchers asked their intern how she kept track of her period. The intern pointed them to Clue. After employing the menstrual tracking app in the study, the researchers found the data they collected to be more detailed and accurate.
“The data is as close to real-time as we can get,” said Jasmine McDonald, one of the researchers. The researchers found that young girls were more inclined and comfortable to share detailed information about personal health matters — such as periods of depression, blood clots and more on their devices— than telling a physician. However, this openness with apps is not just related to teenage girls. Most of us are more comfortable with being transparent with our phones than other people.
The researchers predict that health apps like Clue will be able to open up new possibilities for future studies. Putting to death some of the myths surrounding the human body, scientists can quickly gather information from a large group of people on pain patterns, energy levels, and sexual activity.
By giving away sensitive information to these apps, we become vulnerable. If the information falls into the hands of hackers, your health records could be used against you. While there are concerns with hackers, having access to health data also can be beneficial. These apps can have tremendous value if we fill them with our data. They can give us constant access to accurate information on how our bodies react to certain factors, which can allow us to adjust our habits and our daily plans accordingly.
We have to evaluate our interactions and relationships with hardware and software and always consider the risks and benefits. If you value scientific advancement you will probably feel sharing your information with these apps is worth the risk.