Bloody politik

The promise and power of period tracking apps

Bloody politik

men·stru·a·tion

noun

the process in a woman or person with a vagina of discharging blood and other materials from the lining of the uterus at intervals of about one lunar month from puberty until menopause, except during pregnancy.

I started using the period tracker Clue about a year ago when my cycle became irregular and I had no idea what the hell was going on with my body.

For those of you who may be wondering what exactly a period tracker is and why anyone would want to use one, well, this one’s for you. And to those of you who are considering clicking away from this article because the word ‘menstruation’ makes you uncomfortable, well, surprise! We bleed.

Period tracking apps are exactly what they sound like: They are apps that use inputted information about your cycle such as pain levels, bleeding, emotions, sleep, sexual activity or lack thereof, energy, mental health, and more to keep track of upcoming periods, evaluate menstrual health, and basically let you know why you’re suddenly craving a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Caramel Fudge at 2:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday.

Out of the abundance of apps that can be found in the app store, I chose Clue because of the simplicity of its layout, its high ratings, and the lack of stereotypical pink flowery designs that are found on most tracking apps.

After a few cycles passed, I found that Clue could predict my period almost to the day. This may not be the case for everyone some periods are more irregular than others but trackers are a great way of getting more in touch with your body and what’s going on inside of it.

 

First, period tracking apps are an excellent way to help identify how your menstrual cycle affects and is affected by changes to your body, from medical treatments like hormone replacement therapy to emotional states including dysphoria.

But that’s not all. Moving outside of our own bodies, Clue has a feature where you can share your cycle and symptoms with people in your contacts. At first, I wondered why anyone would want to share such personal information. However, I’ve found that it’s features like this and the apps that feature them that are changing how we see menstruation and how it affects our bodies.

Simply telling someone, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on in my body right now’ normalizes periods and sparks conversations about them.

Often, people assume that only women use period tracking apps. Specifically, cisgender women women who have always identified as such and were born with the genitalia to match. Of course, this makes sense considering the fact that we’ve been raised to think that only women have vaginas and only men have penises and those are the only two options available. But, realistically, the world isn’t so binary.

As a cis woman, I obviously can’t speak to the individual struggles that trans and/or non-binary people experience when it comes to periods, but I have learnt that just acknowledging the fact that it’s not just cis women who get periods changes the way we see menstruation. It helps to deconstruct the idea that menstruation is limited to one type of body.

However, in addition to the types of bodies that are affected by menstruation, it’s important to discuss the North Atlantic centrism of these kinds of technologies and apps such as Clue.

These apps are excellent resources for privileged individuals, but what about the millions of people across the globe who don’t even have access to basic menstrual products?

We can applaud these apps and the people making them for opening discourse, but we also need to start conversations surrounding the accessibility of menstrual hygiene products for everyone.

We need to demand more.

We also need to be critical of the apps we are downloading. What are the main reasons that developers are putting these apps on the market? Do these companies actually care who uses their services and why?

Developers of these applications are capitalizing off of menstruation while much of the world still sees it as a taboo topic. We may have gotten rid of the tampon tax here, but we are still paying for menstrual products, as if bleeding from our vaginas once a month is some kind of luxury.

We have to pay to keep our bodies clean and download apps to keep track of our bodies. Money is still being made off of bodies that have no say in their function. Looking into the goals and priorities of the companies making these applications is just as important as talking about the people benefitting from them.

Ultimately, period tracking apps and the people making them should be focusing on advancing reproductive and menstrual health care, not restricting it to a specific group of people. Everybody and every type of body needs to have equal access to these products and services.

This, of course, may seem like an unrealistic goal to have considering all the variables that come into play, including location and means, but I hope that articles like this can start dialogue that will take us one step further in the right direction.

 

U of T-developed app can inform transit policy

City Logger can track commutes and provide insight into modes of travel

U of T-developed app can inform transit policy

Whether your commute is a short subway trip or a lengthy bus ride, you can use the City Logger app to monitor your data while aiding provincial governments in transit funding and planning decisions.

Developed by a team of U of T researchers, City Logger runs in the background of your phone and will collect location and time data to aid researchers in their understanding of transit user behaviour.

The app is part of a larger research project called the Transportation Tomorrow Survey (TTS), which has been conducted every five years since 1986 to collect household travel data.

Chris Harding, a PhD candidate in the Department of Civil Engineering at U of T, has been one of the driving forces behind this project. According to Harding, the TTS had collected data from 150,000 households by landline surveying during 2011 and 2016. However, this method has been costly and time-consuming.

“We needed to explore new ways to collect data in a region, and smartphones were one of these things that we were looking at,” said Harding.

Harding notes that there are some limitations when it comes to surveying through an application, including technical limitations like GPS location disruptions, and physical limitations like the way people interact with the application. However, this method has proven to be more advantageous than conventional forms of surveying in the past. Harding said that City Logger enabled his team to reach a younger audience range and capture transit trips that go unreported in most conventional surveys.

“When you have stand-alone apps, you would find that the trips go underreported anywhere from 25 to 40% of the actual trips that [commuters] make and so the app… allows us to not have that self-reporting [error],” said Harding.

City Logger is currently available for download on both Android and iOS devices.

VIP available just a tap away

Third-year engineering student Matthew Marji developed an app to make Toronto’s nightlife easier to navigate

VIP available just a tap away

Booth & Bottle is an app conceptualized and developed by fourth-year U of T engineering student Matthew Marji. It was designed to facilitate access to the city’s nightlife which, according to Marji, “has always been a major component of our daily Toronto experience.”

The app includes a number of venues throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Marji and his team “wanted individuals to engage in an industry that is supported by a plethora of local businesses — both small and large — all of which contributes to Toronto’s cultural makeup.” With the app, tables or VIP booths can be booked in advance.

In addition to partnering with local venues, Booth & Bottle also has a relationship with the IBM Innovation Centre in Toronto — one of many centres throughout North America that provides small businesses with technological services designed to reach new markets.

Marji gratefully noted that because of the relationship with IBM, Booth & Bottle has been able “to engage in a wide-range of strategic partnerships,” which he hopes will help with expanding the app in the near future.

The team’s plan for expansion is being actively pursued. They intend to grow Booth & Bottle technologically, and expand its scope nationally.

In addition to easing the planning process, the app offers perks to its users. The app features a points system, where points can be earned by referring friends to the app and by making reservations and sharing them on social media. The points can then be used toward drinks, style upgrades, and free entry into clubs.

Marji’s background in engineering has helped him a great deal in developing the app. Through his schooling, he gained “the technical skills needed to develop a mobile application from scratch,” as well as “the soft skills needed to… approach and assess problems strategically [and]… to engage in an entrepreneurial environment with confidence.”

School can be stressful, and going out with friends can be a great way to relax. Booth & Bottle helps to simplify the planning of a night out. Marji summed it up best when he said that, “the memories forged throughout our four years at the university will relate the experiences shared with friends, with late-night Toronto as our backdrop.”

Correction (March 2nd, 2016): An earlier version of this article misidentified Matthew Marji.