The Joys and Sorrow of Fitbit

fitbitA Fitbit falls firmly in the category of items I would never purchase for myself.  It’s trendy, it’s techie, it’s expensive.  But when the craze hit, I was mildly (if remotely) curious.  So when a family member unexpectedly got me one a little over a year ago, I decided to check it out.

As everyone knows by now, a Fitbit tracks the “steps” you take in a day (in reality, it doesn’t count every step you take.  And some movements count as “steps” when you’re barely moving at all).  But it also monitors your heart rate, calories burned, flights of steps taken (again, not literally, it seems to operate under some strange algorithm, accounting for steps plus elevation changes or something; you can go up and down the stairs and it won’t count; you can walk up a gentle hill and it will say you’ve climbed 10 flights).

It also acts as a watch.  That is, it tells you the time.  But as watches go, it’s about the ugliest, most utilitarian watch you can get.  Look at it.  Not pretty.

It also has a stopwatch, which is helpful for working out.  But that’s about all it does to help you work out.

That’s  my main beef with the Fitbit.  It’s marketed as a health/exercise tool, but in reality, all it does is monitor what you’re already doing.  The goal is to reach 10,000 steps in a day.  Once reached, you get a very satisfying little wrist vibration.  But it’s not that hard to reach.  I have a desk job, so I don’t make it every workday, but if I go for a walk over lunch, and have some normal interactions with my family at home, I get it most days.  I’m not doing anything I would consider exercise.  I’m mainly just doing what I was already doing.

The step counter rolls over at midnight.  The only change to my behavior occurs in the last few minutes of a day.  If it’s 11:45 p.m. and I’m within 500 steps of 10,000, I might take a walk around the block or do some jumping jacks.  Is that an increase in my exercise for the day?  Technically, yes.  But it’s not making that big of a difference.

It’s not just me.  Look around.  A lot of people have Fitbits who are clearly not getting enough exercise.  Like me, I don’t think they’re Fitbit is modifying their behavior in any significant way.  It’s just tracking what they were already doing, and in some cases, giving them a false sense of accomplishment.  “Congratulations, you walked 3000 steps today!”  It sounds like a lot, if you don’t know any better.  But I had the flu a couple of months back, and there wasn’t a day I got less than 5000.  If you’re only getting 3000 steps in a day, you’re barely even getting up off the couch.

There’s something else I didn’t like about the Fitbit, but I didn’t make this realization until mine broke.  In the particular one I had, there was a defect in the wristband, where the head of the watch was bubbling up and detaching from the monitor.  To their credit, they sent me a new one at no charge.  But there was a period after the new one arrived while my other one was broken, and I was Fitbit free.  And it was kind of amazing.

You see, something about being tracked and monitored bothered me.  This goes to my tech griping generally.  It’s too much.  Too Big Brother (I’m currently reading 1984, by the way, and the truths and parallels to contemporary society are blowing my mind; detailed book review to follow).  I don’t want Google to bring up advertisements in the margins based on the contents of my private emails, I don’t want everyone I know to be able to track where I am based on the GPS in my phone, and I don’t want my watch keeping track of every step I take, every move I make.  So I went without.

I still walked over lunch, but it had nothing to do with meeting a step quota.  It was about the sun on my face, listening to the birds and the sound of the water, seeing nature and fellow walkers.  Thinking.  It was 100% about me.

If it was late at night, I had no idea how many steps I had walked.  Nobody knew.  Nobody cared.  I could do whatever I wanted.

I did not exercise any less.  In fact, I think I may have exercised more.  There may have been times where I looked at my Fitbit and thought “well, heck, I walked 10,000 steps today, no need to do another workout.”  Without the Fitbit, I just listened to my body.  Do I want to de-stress?  Do I want to burn some calories?  Do I want to look/feel better?  Let’s do it!

Because I don’t need some little piece of plastic on my wrist to tell me what I need and what I’m accomplishing.  Screw you, Fitbit!

I finally did re-register it, and my new one is up and running.  We’re getting along fine.  But I don’t let it control my life.  Sometimes, if I feel like I need a glimpse of those Fitbit-free days, I just leave it at home.  And you know what?  Nothing happens.  Everything is okay.

I don’t hate everything about the Fitbit.  It might motivate me some, especially late at night.  It’s a functional time-keeping device.  It provides interesting information.  But when this one breaks, that might be it for me.  I’m tired of being Big-Brothered.  Unplug!

2 thoughts on “The Joys and Sorrow of Fitbit

    • The curious thing about 1984, in my idea of it, I pictured it as something some distant, omnipotent government was imposing on humanity. Little did I know it was something we would voluntarily do to ourselves. A telescreen, not just in every room, but in the palm of every hand. Yikes!

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