I Am Big Brother

I started wearing one of those fitness trackers recently—the kind of watch that monitors the number of steps you take in a day, keeps track of your various workouts and monitors your sleep patterns. I’m admittedly late to the game with these wearable fitness trackers, as it seems like every grandma in the grocery store is checking her Fitbit for a step count. I pride myself on being a late adopter to most technology, jumping on the bandwagon just as the technical trend is about to be usurped by something better. See my Napster account and state of the art VHS/TV combo as proof.

But when I finally do adopt yesterday’s hot trend, I go all in. It took me a long time to acquiesce to Strava, but now I can’t imagine taking a ride without turning it on. If I’m not going for KOM, then what’s the point? So, I’ve been geeking out on this fitness tracker, digging into all of the data that it’s been collecting on me throughout each day. I’ve learned that I don’t walk nearly as much as I should. I’m lucky to reach half of my 10,000-step goal on any given day, largely because I work from home and going back and forth between the fridge and the couch doesn’t add up to a lot of steps. I’ve learned that swimming for 30 minutes and running for 30 minutes burn about the same amount of calories. I’ve learned that there’s no reason for me to be tired every day, because I actually get way more deep sleep than the average adult.

It’s fun to get nerdy on all the data these fitness trackers can mine from your day, but much like Strava, there’s a dark side. It’s turning every aspect of my life into a competition. I find myself taking the long way to the refrigerator in order to log more steps than I logged yesterday. I want that digital badge the fitness tracker’s app sends me when I finally meet my step goal. I hear it’s amazing. I can take a look at a week’s worth of sleep and eliminate the factors that led to a restless night in bed. Now I know that when I have three cocktails at 10pm, I get much less deep sleep. I want that deep sleep badge, so I cut out the cocktails. This is what you’re supposed to do with a fitness tracker. Analyze the data and make adjustments to be the best version of yourself.

On the surface, this sort of competition is good. The fitness tracker is making me walk more. Rumor has it that walking is healthy. But it’s also exhausting. Not the actual walking, but the caring about the walking. That’s what’s exhausting. Giving a shit. Giving every aspect of your life a goal, from your sleep to the number of bowel movements you have in a day, then obsessing over hitting those goals…that’s exhausting and I’d argue pretty unhealthy. Granted, that obsession is all on me. I’m the one that’s turning every aspect of my day into a competition. That’s a my bad situation, but the fitness tracking industry is definitely an enabler here.

Still, I dig having all that data at my disposal. Although I feel there’s an aspect to these wearables that’s missing. They can count calories and log steps and measure heart rate, but they can’t quantify stoke. That feeling you get before going over a big drop on a mountain bike, or riding the first chair on a ski lift, or waxing your board on the beach before hitting the water…that combination of fear, excitement and anticipation. Imagine a wearable that tracks the number of times you’re stoked in a day. That’s a better measurement of a healthy life. Show me a tracker that can do that, and I’ll happily fork over my hard-earned money for it. Eventually. Just before it’s being replaced by something better.

Places to Go, Things to See: