“And don’t forget to download our app!” the lady on reception told my partner and I as we dropped our baby off at nursery for the first time. I nodded obligingly as we walked out the door. Minutes later, both our phones pinged informing us that we had been given access to parental accounts that would allow us to monitor our baby. So began a daily ritual of checking in on how many times said baby had pooped.
This, right here, is technological progress. We can, with just a couple of taps, check how many bowel movements our baby has had and at what time, find out how much of their lunch they have eaten and when and for how long they have napped. There’s even a chart for tracking the length of their naps over time. It’s both glorious and terrifying.
The app in question, Famly, is the work of an eponymous Copenhagen-based startup, which has to date raised more than £322,000 in seed funding. Famly sits at the more sensible end of an ever-growing industry of products and services that aim to quantify our babies. By 2024, the global interactive baby monitor market is expected to top $2.5 billion (£1.93bn). And today, nobody stops with the purchase of a rudimentary baby monitor.
The idea of the quantified baby isn’t new. But the number of products and services on offer is currently going through a boom phase. When a baby is born, it seems perfectly normal to start inputting data about them into a range of apps. It’s a way of rationalising something that is, in all its smelly, sleep-deprived brilliance, utterly irrational. At first, it’s reassuring, a crutch to aid with the confusion. My partner and I had both become so used to diligently inputting data about our own lives – both personal and professional – that it seemed a logical thing to do. But, after months of using an app to track when our baby napped, we came to realise that all that data we were collecting – the length of nap, how easy our baby found it to get to sleep, where they slept, what mood they were in when they woke up – was utterly meaningless.
But what about a company that likes aggregating such data to better personalise its products and services? Step forward Google. The company’s life sciences sister company, Verily, has partnered with Procter & Gamble’s Pampers to embed sensors in nappies that track when an infant sleeps, wees or poos. Lumi, which will be available in the US in the coming months, will keep individual data private, but aggregated data will be used to improve the product. Right now, Google’s nascent interest in tracking your newborn’s bowel movements is a relative footnote. Soon, it could be the whole story.
Or, to put it another way, Google and Pampers will soon have access to, in aggregate, data on how huge numbers of babies sleep and potentially be able to offer advice on how they might sleep better. When it comes to selling that data back to exhausted parents, you can pretty much name your price.