When it comes to all the craze about self-tracking apps and gadgets, I like to say: it’s all fun and games until your life depends on it. Meaning: those of us with diabetes who are forced to continuously monitor our bodily functions are probably the least likely to get excited over every new health sensor, app, and tracking doodad.

On the other hand (and it’s a big other hand!), this monitoring technology has revolutionized our lives with diabetes – freeing us from the burden of handwritten data logs, allowing us to spot trends in our glucose levels, and of course allowing us to keep close tabs on our highs and lows in reTrackers Richard MacManus al-time thanks to CGM technology and the Nightscout community that’s hacked it for better viewing.

A new eBook by Richard MacManus, founder of ReadWrite.com, is a colorful look at how self-tracking tech is allowing individuals to take control of much of their own daily healthcare, crumbling the paternalistic approach of health establishment. The book is aptly titled, Trackers: How Technology Is Helping Us Monitor & Improve Our Health.”

Inspired by Richard’s own diagnosis with type 1 diabetes in 2007, this book is both autobiographical and a tech visionary’s sharp-eyed account of the landscape of new-age health devices invented over the past eight or so years. 

The book begins with the words: “My interest in health technology was triggered by a visit to my doctor’s office on November 19, 2007. That was when I found out I had diabetes. Looking back on it today, it’s remarkable how ignorant I was about the state of my own body at the time. “

Of course, Richard (who lives in Wellington, New Zealand), was no stranger to technology. He was already the man of the hour on the Internet, ramping up an international team of tech journalists at his powerhouse ReadWrite blog, which he sold to SAY Media in 2011 and eventually left in October 2012 to write a book about technology.

And this is it, Folks. His first book.

Richard begins by noting that he’s been using an app called Diamedic to record everything about his health with diabetes. (I noticed that he also named Glucose Buddy as one of his online Top 10 Tech Picks of 2014.) But that’s about it for specific mentions of diabetes care. And frankly, that’s refreshing.

What this book offers is a well-thought-through explanation of the potential benefits of self-tracking, and the pioneering work that’s been done so far in the field. From the introduction:

“The main (diseases) of the early 21st century are cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases (such as type 1 diabetes) and diseases related to dysfunction in our bodies (such as type 2 diabetes). What all of these otherwise disparate diseases have in common is that they hit us from within, whereas prior to the 20th century, the most virulent diseases were those that attacked our bodies from without: tuberculosis, flu epidemics, plagues which literally traveled through the air, via people sneezing or coughing. But the fact that modern diseases strike from within our own bodies gives us a glimmer of hope. With tools like personal genomics and brain scans, you can now see inside your body. With self-tracking devices and apps, you can analyze your body’s inputs and outputs. It’s by no means a cure-all, but these technologies allow you to better understand your body and the impact of your lifestyle on it.”

And Richard breaks it down: “Having more health data is one thing, using it is quite another. Even in cases where there is a clear path to prevention, such as the signs of type 2 diabetes, it can be very difficult to implement the changes in your lifestyle necessary to prevent it. Currently in Silicon Valley there is a stampede to design the latest wearable gadget that helps you make lifestyle changes.”

Get ready for 200 pages spanning 10 chapters -- which can easily been read as stand-alone essays – each packed with valuable insights and nuggets.

Health Data Bedtime Stories

Richard recounts the birth of the “Quantified Self” movement, a term coined in 2007 by two Wired magazine editors, Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly. The founding principle: “Unless something can be measured, it cannot be improved.”

Chapter 1 tells the story of obsessive self-tracker Buster Benson, a 36-year-old Web developer and serial entrepreneur from Seattle. He's an early adopter who’s been recording his life changes on the Internet since 1999, but his long-term takeaway is somewhat surprising: “precision can be counter-productive.” So instead of tracking the number of steps he does a day, he now simply notes that he “walked to work.” Or instead of counting calories, he’ll just record that he “ate a salad.” In other words, he’s rejecting numbers in favor of subjective criteria. “It’s his way of not getting too obsessed with data,” Richard writes.

Interesting start to a health data tracking book!

Chapters 2 and 3 tell the success stories of tools like tools MyFitnessPal and Fitbit, the latter of which he calls a “self-styled pedometer on steroids.” These tools can help you identify patterns in your body and lifestyle, he writes, but “what you do with that information is up to you.”

From there, we’re led through a chapter on “The Diet Wars”—Atkins vs. Pritkin vs. Paleo and so on. I love Richard’s down-to-earth take here: “By all means try out the latest fashionable diet, but make sure you track the results.” He believes food tracking apps do help people make better food choices, “whatever flavor of diet you subscribe to -- and it only takes five to ten minutes a day in total to get some benefit out of it.”

Chapter 5 is all about weight tracking, with a case study of Weight Watchers and the notion that well-being and happiness are closely related to the whole issue of weight management.

Chapter 6 on brain tracking offers a look at a startup called Neuroprofile, which hopes to offer brain imaging and interpretation to everyday people. At the moment, users will need to schedule an MRI scan independently, get a digital copy of the result and upload that to Neuroprofile. “This gets into important issues of who owns the data,” Richard writes. Right!

Chapter 7, on bacteria, covers “tracking the microbe with ubiome.” What? “The scientific community is at the early stages of studying the microbiome and figuring out its significance in human health,” Richard explains. “uBiome is a similar service to the one offered by 23andMe… only instead of profiling your DNA, uBiome profiles the collective DNA of billions of microorganisms inside your body — a.k.a. your microbiome. We’re talking about microscopic organisms, such as the bacteria that live in your digestive system.” Richard admits that very little of this data will be actionable for people now, but it has “big potential in preventative medicine and establishing a baseline for probiotics.”

In Chapter 8, you’ll meet the tracking website TicTrac, launched to the public in 2013 by a London-based startup. Richard raves about this product: a dashboard for people to track various things about their lives, from their health to their computer habits to their daily spending. It syncs with many popular health apps like RunKeeper, Foursquare or Withings. Tictrac is in beta now – and certainly looks compelling.

TicTrac Dashboard

Chapter 9 profiles Dr. Samir Damani, cardiologist and founder of MD Revolution, a service combining a tracking dashboard with virtual coaching services. The way he describes it, it’s like an online marketplace where healthcare providers like nutritionists and personal trainers compete to offer their services to you. Wow! But Richard explains: “If MD Revolution had to rely on individual memberships to make money, it would struggle… MD Revolution’s solution is to get corporations to sign up their employees en masse. This has big ramifications not only for the future of healthcare, but for patient privacy.”

In Chapter 10, we meet the modern physician, who truly sees the doctor-patient relationship as a collaboration rather than a consultation: Dr. Robin Berzin, a young doctor in New York City who incorporates data from trackers and sources like 23andMe but also alternatives like mind-body therapy including Ayurveda into her daily practice. The implication being that all doctors should, and will, eventually be more like Berzin.

Note a shout-out in this book to Dr. Richard Bernstein and his landmark diabetes book; he was one of the pioneer self-trackers and champions of patient self-care.

In short, Trackers is a great read. It’s not only an enjoyable journey of discovery, but it’ll prepare you to sound off like an expert on the health data revolution at any party or conference! And who doesn’t like to sound smart?

{Available on Amazon Kindle for $7.99}

And here’s your chance to win a free eBook copy…


A DMBooks Giveaway

Interested in winning one of two free copies of Trackers: How Technology Is Helping Us Monitor & Improve Our Health.” by Richard MacManus? Here's how to enter:

1. Post your comment* below including the codeword “DMBooks” to let us know that you’d like to be entered in the giveaway.

*NOTE: Our comment system has changed since our move to Healthline.com; at least for the time being, you do need to log in to Facebook or use a specific email in order to comment. You can also enter this giveaway by emailing us at info@diabetesmine.com with the subject header "Trackers Book" if you prefer.

2. You have until Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, at 5pm PST to enter.

3. The winner will be chosen using Random.org, and will be announced on Facebook and Twitter on Monday, March 2, 2015, so make sure you’re following us!

We’ll update this post with the winner’s name once chosen. Good luck, tech fans!

This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Mike Ratrie and Elena Ennis, who Random.org chose as our two winners!

Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.


This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.