We’ve fallen in love with activity monitors like the FitBit and Nike Fuel Band that track your steps and graph how many calories you burn. The quantified life provides insight that can lead to healthier behavior. But would a gadget that tracks how much you drink work the same way?
The BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer – How it Works
The $150 BACtrack connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Then you just download the app, enter your gender and weight – and blow into the hand-held device. It gives you a blood alcohol reading that is then saved in your phone. Less expensive (and less accurate) personal breathalyzers utilize a semiconductor sensor, but the BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer uses a professional-grade, fuel cell sensor, the same technology used by law enforcement. That said, no breathalyzer is 100% accurate – defense attorneys routinely challenge their validity in court (blood tests are the gold standard). But while I wouldn’t bet my license – or someone’s life – on this device, it still offers a number of potential benefits.
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Tracking Your Behavior
The real power of this device is the tracking. Each time you blow into the BAC tracker you get a reading of your alcohol level, it graphs that number over a 14-day period. After the first week of using it, I was a more aware of how many nights I’d had a drink. By monitoring your behavior, you can start to see patterns that could potentially lead to a healthier lifestyle. Last week, I racked up five nights with a drink; next week I’m aiming to trim that down to four.
One of the coolest features is a graph that estimates how long you have to wait until you’re safe to drive, or until your BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) is back down to zero. Even two people of the exact same weight and gender may metabolize alcohol at radically different rates. I experienced this when I watched two friends who weigh the same amount each drink a beer and then test with the BACtrack: one of them had double the blood alcohol level of the other. So learning how much time you personally need to be safe is, well, sobering.
The company touts that the device is “compatible with Facebook and Twitter.” Really? This is something to tout? Share your BAC with your friends! Hey, you could even see who gets the highest score! Are you kidding? Does anyone think posting your level of sobriety, or lack thereof, is a good idea??? Not me. That said, with some extra attention in the settings, BACtrack says it will keep your information totally private. Before I believe that of any company these days, I might need another drink.
Real-time Global Results
One odd spinoff of people posting their results – which can be done anonymously – is the BACtrack World View. This map shows the most recent 100 Blood Alcohol Content readings from users in whatever region you select. Unfortunately, this anonymous posting of your alcohol level is turned on by default in the app. If you do choose to use the device, turn that feature off immediately.
Overall, I do see a huge benefit here. Tracking your behavior is one of the most powerful ways to bring about change. Sure, you can do this in an analog fashion: writing down how many drinks you have each night or putting poker chips in a glass for every drink during the week. But the actual numeric value associated with your blood alcohol level, learning how fast you metabolize alcohol, and how you are affected by different spirits and the variations in serving sizes (“I was over-served”), make this an effective tool for learning your limits. In fact, it might make a great gift for that 20-something you know who is headed back to college.
Here’s to more mindful drinking.
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Special thanks to the folks at Va de Vi for use of the location.