When I replaced my phone, I was given a free Fitbit — one of those activity trackers you wear on your wrist that monitor how far you walk each day. I was highly skeptical, but decided to give it a try. Almost a month of using it has reminded me of some old lessons and taught me some new ones, including about the generational pivot toward more self-directed lives:
1. Measurement metrics matter, especially when they end up altering behavior and influencing self-esteem. This is particularly true for inherently competitive people. I have found myself walking around the house and hotel rooms in the evening as I try to register a minimum 10,000 steps for the day (the initial objective set by Fitbit). And when I have failed to make that goal (yes, the photo below isn’t illustrative of all of last month), I have been quite disappointed.
2. Multiple metrics can confuse rather than enlighten; and they can add to a sense of underachievement. My Fitbit, even though it’s the most basic model, goes beyond measuring steps and miles. It also claims to be able to tell me how many calories I have burned and the number of “active minutes” in the day — and it sets a daily target for each.
I have no idea how I am supposed to internalize all these data points, including their order of importance. So I find myself pursuing multiple objectives that are highly correlated but, frustratingly, are not sufficiently linear in their relationship — adding to the potential for performance anxiety. The Fitbit also allows me to do more, provided I am willing to be disciplined about entering data (which I am not willing to do at this stage). This includes monitoring calorie and liquid intakes, as well as weight evolution. It even allows me to “start a food plan.”
And, I am told, all this pales in comparison to the capacities of the more sophisticated models, which can record a wide range of activities (such as cycling) and monitor cardio workouts. Apparently, the most advanced models also provide exercise analysis and summaries as well as log calls as texts from your smartphone.
3. I’ve also discovered through my Fitbit analysis that a lot of walking gets done in airports. This was somewhat surprising. One recent day, I met a quarter of my 10,000-step objective just walking from the rental car drop-off, through security and to the boarding gate. A quarter! And having arrived at the gate early, I opted for a bit more walking rather than sitting — again influenced by a measured metric.