Sometime around 2007, the notion of the quantified self started to solidify its place in tech and popular culture. Now, there’s a veritable buffet of options for tracking and analyzing personal data. The most popular are fitness trackers such as Nike’s FuelBand and Jawbone’s Up (with startups like FitBit and Shine joining the race). There’s lifelogging, where products like the tiny, wearable Memoto photographs you continually in 30-second intervals. You can even track and visualize your mood swings.
But before any of this existed, there were journals. Someone who wanted to get fitter, or improve their guitar skills, could simply exercise some self-discipline with a written log of their efforts. Mem:o, a new personal data app, works a bit like this.
“Mem:o aims to add a small moment of delight to an everyday task,” says co-founder Caroline Oh of the free app. “We imagined that most people would use mem:o toward self-improvement and self-understanding, and we wanted this to feel encouraging and rewarding, as well as productive.” It’s emotionally akin to getting a gold star next to your name on a piece of poster board—graphically quantitative, and a marker of a task completed.
A number, the date, and the time are the basic building blocks of mem:o. Users can create a new mem:o within almost any category—it comes with fixed headers like fitness and money, but users can customize it for anything from running to practicing piano to back-to-school shopping—and then clock in over time. Each entry is displayed as a color-coded circle. When the user taps on that mem:o, the app opens up into a catalog of activity from days past.
All mem:os can display at once, in calendar form, which can either be visually disorienting, or old-school intriguing, depending how you look at it: “Before we had mem:o, this is how we often encountered our notes and numbers, as we marked them on Post-its and notebooks,” Oh tells Co.Design. “Often these accidents reveal interesting relationships.”
Mem:o also wisely lets users take notes, so that there’s an added emotional layer to what’s otherwise a robotic set of measurements. If it’s raining, you might not run that extra mile, or if you’re hosting a house guest, perhaps you log fewer hours of sleep. These notes contextualize our habits, and could shape behavior moving forward.
Here's the trick with mem:o: You have to do the leg work. Unlike wearables, which sync seamlessly so that data is there waiting for you, mem:o requires initiative and some diligence. In order to get a thorough understanding of habits, at least for beginners, a productive use of mem:o would involve tracking just one or two activities. And if it sounds like a chore, that's what the pop-hued charts are there for: "The circle seemed to be the perfect shape to represent a mem:o for its friendly, organic, and symmetrical qualities," Oh says. "We wanted a screenshot to feel like something you could hang on your wall."
Mem:o is free, and can be downloaded here.