Dreams from my Fitbit

by

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Like 70% of the first world, I got a Fitbit for Christmas. I have worn it almost every day since, taking it off only for showers or occasions that call for a watch, like rainforest benefits. It’s almost permanently attached to my wrist now. But it’s probably more decorative than anything.

If you’re already a decently active human being, a Fitbit will just confirm for you that you’re a decently active human being. You’ll discover, though you probably knew this already, that you take a decent amount of steps, covering a decent distance. You also climb a decent amount of stairs. You tend to burn a decent amount of calories.

Anyone who wants a Fitbit (and isn’t gifted one by quietly concerned friends or family) is already the type of person who finds data about their fitness routine interesting, who has already carved out brain space to think about the number of steps they walk in a day. What do “steps” even mean as an exercise metric?! Not even scientists know!

Point being the Fitbit — and by extension the whole world of wearable health tech, or whatever you want to call it — is inherently conflicted: a worthwhile device for people who will probably never wear it, and a silly “already knew that!” counter for anyone who cared enough to want one in the first place. In Simpsons parlance: “Too much of a boy for crazy town; too much of a crazy for boys town.”

So what can the Fitbit really do for you? WELL — there is actually a whole passel of life lessons contained in your would-be Hot Topic bracelet, only loosely fitness-related, that may just reorient your whole perspective on shit. You just gotta know how to READ THE GD NUMBERS.

1. We All Need Validation

Life, we all know, comes at you hard and is rarely inclined to reward you for your manifold minor accomplishments, whether emailing that person the way you said you would or being nice to the Trader Joe’s cashier for once. But wouldn’t it be nice if someone noticed? Fitbit notices. Fitbit notices everything, and wants you to know just how proud it is.

When you hit one of your designated counter goals for the day — the number of which, whether steps or something else, is entirely set by you — you get buzzed. It’s just a gentle vibration, a digital nudge. “Hey, nice job, you!” it seems to say. You return a bemused smirk. It was only 10,000 steps! Nothing to get too excited about. “No, really. You’re great.” Now you’re blushing. You turn away. “Hey. Hey.”

“I love you.”

Fitbit is the kind of supportive partner who is literally and figuratively happy to be on this journey with you, and without ever asking you what you think of her improv show.

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2. Cheating is Fun, Then It Isn’t

When I was in second grade, I lied to my teacher to win a monthly reading contest. Now, “lied to my teacher to win a monthly reading contest” could easily be the name of this blog, or an entire writing career. But in the moment it amounted to this: I had won this same contest the month before, and it made me feel good. I wanted to win again. So I gamed the system. And then I felt bad.

Doug Lang was my closest competitor and, being a glasses-wearer from a young age, could probably guess what I’d done. But all that really mattered was I knew I’d cheated, and was in fact cheating myself (of literacy). Goosing my numbers on Fitbit by clapping for a half hour makes me feel about the same way.

Here’s a brief list of activities Fitbit’s accelerometer tracks, without differentiation, as “movement”:

  • running
  • walking
  • baby stepping
  • clapping
  • masturbating, probably
  • twirling Fitbit on your finger
  • strapping Fitbit to your bike wheel
  • strapping Fitbit to a Wiimote

If you wanted to, you could completely disregard the exercise component of Fitbit and just Game Genie the thing for bragging rights. Want to flash your tasteful black band all over the gym or juice bar, telling everyone in earshot about your series of 45,000 step days? You can! But why would you?

Listen: you’re wearing one of these things because physical fitness is important to you, and quantifying that pursuit seems fun and helpful. Sometimes you ALSO want to hoover a bake-at-home pizza, and to do so while maintaining the illusion of a healthy lifestyle. Life is full of paradoxes.

But hacking your Fitbit will, in the end, only make you feel bad. In your head, because what kind of fucking weirdo spends seconds, god forbid minutes of his day cooking up schemes to outsmart a Hot Topic bracelet. And in your heart, because you’re probably going to need a triple bypass.

3. Net Goods

We cut those plastic can rings. We try to take shorter showers. We read to our children. Why do we do these boring things whose impact is so often impossible to quantify? Because we feel that, whether we can anticipate the end result or not, it’s the right thing to do. At its most useful, Fitbit operates by the same principle.

Fitbit is no one’s first step toward an Olympic podium, but there is no recorded case of a Fitbit making anyone’s life worse. “That whole 10,000 steps per day thing, though, that’s bullshit, man. There’s no science behind it!” Obviously! But also…why not? Take 2,500 steps. Take 100,000 steps. Take however many steps you want, because they are all good steps. Why wouldn’t you take them?

Like recycling and being kind to people, exercise is something you can’t actually argue against. Argue against social media as the new steel mill. Argue against the way the Marvel Connected Universe might actually be anti-cinema, if you think about it. Argue against government policies, relationship hurdles, Pringles flavors. But for GOD’S SAKE JUST KEEP WALKING.

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4. Why Fight the Future?

One day we’re all going to be cyborgs, or at least be wearing Google Glass un-ironically. When that day comes, who do you want to be: the person who embraces the changing rhythms of life, or a Past Clinger dragged down into the mud/work pits by a robot task force? The right answer seems pretty obvious.

But time travel back 30-40 years from then, to now, and marvel at just how innocuous the Fitbit actually is on your person. Even days into your life as a Fitbitter, with all the new data points (steps climbed!) and conversations (I climbed this many steps!) available to you, you’ve already forgotten that you’re wearing one. It’s a shitty watch, basically, or a less aggressive Livestrong band. It’s just there, the same way your phone is in your right pocket and your wallet the back right (in case you wanted to mug me). You get used to it the same way you would anything, from contact lenses to a pacemaker. Isn’t that just environmental adaptation?

Hahahahaha I needed one of these points to be “philosophical.” Thanks for reading!

5. The Best Stuff in Life Smells Sometimes

One last thing you should know about Fitbit: wear it long enough on your wrist, and it’s going to fucking stink. But you’ll sniff it from time to time, curiosity winning out. And you’ll know: I’m alive, dammit.

All photos courtesy of Fitbit.com. This post is not sponsored by Fitbit, but it was written with one on.

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