Still, digital avatars lack the persuasive power of real people. It's amazing what our phones can do, but they're no silver bullet. "Technology doesn't create the context to motivate you," says Bill Baren, a professional life coach in San Francisco. "If you and I are working to break through your smoking habit, there's a real relationship there to keep you motivated. You and I will have an understanding, and there's a level of accountability there."

And some tech advocates share Baren's skepticism. One panel at this year's SXSWi was titled "Health: Is There Really an App for That?" Sure, consumer electronics might be able to help us adopt better habits, but it's dangerous to think of them as a panacea. In The Digital Diet, Sieberg points out that the average user gets bored with a new app within seven to ten days, which is bad news for anyone planning to use one to make lifestyle changes. And while he sees benefits in many of these tools, he suggests restricting yourself to a dozen or so with demonstrated results. Because once you start gorging on apps, they soon cease to improve your life—they become your life.

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