Thursday, July 10, 2014

Does this make me a FitWit?

I'd like to take a moment and wax technological about the new trend in fitness technology. I know very little about this subject, and therefore feel fully qualified to write a blog post about it.

My company's health plan has a fitness program wrapped around it and, as part of the deal, I was provided with a shiny new FitBit Flex. Well, not shiny - actually more of a pale blue rubber thing. The idea is that I would use it to track my daily activity, sync that activity with my health plan website along with my thousands of coworkers, and somehow magically keep the planet in its proper rotation just by all of us walking a few extra steps each day.

So far, I've been less than impressed by this gadget, the technology, and the purpose behind it.

Let's start with the "fit" of this FitBit Flex. Take your favorite wristwatch, the one with the nicely worn-in leather band, the one that fits so perfectly that you never even notice it's there. Now, remove the leather band, and replace it with a non-slip rubber strip. and replace the watch face with a solid rectangle that, while thin, is about the size of one square from a Hershey bar and twice as thick, thus making the gadget stick out from your wrist like a pale blue tumor. Now, replace than nice buckle from your wristwatch band with this odd fastener that you must squeeze with all of your might in order to get one end of the band to attach to the other side and stay on your wrist. but make sure the doohicky is loose enough that the whole thing pops off your wrist the first time you accidentally brush your arm against a countertop. Yeah, they aren't winning any fans with the physical design of this thing. It took me only an hour to temporarily lose it when it popped off without me noticing, and another 45 minutes until I took it off and vowed never to wear it on my wrist again. For one thing, it makes using a computer mouse impossible, because it fails to slide across the desk as you move your mousing hand. Try putting a bunch of elastic bands around your wrist, and then try using the mouse for a little while. Annoying, ain't it? Luckily the thing works just was well if kept in your pants pocket.

Now for the tech. It's sole purpose in life is to track the steps you take. Big f'ing deal. I rarely sit still. I'm four paragraphs into this blog post and I already got up from my desk three times. If I'm going to increase my exercise level I'm not going to do it by taking an additional walk around the block. I'm going to do it by going to a fitness club. Or by taking a bike ride. Or by running. Or rowing. Or playing volleyball. But, with the exception of running, the FitBit doesn't take any of those aforementioned items into account when calculating your risk of death from a heart valve blockage next Thursday after dinner.

Yesterday my FitBit app on my iPhone informed me that I "blew past today's goal", with 1032 extra steps taken. That's nice, since a)I have no idea what my "goal" is, and b)I apparently blew past the goal as a result of mowing the lawn last night. Whoop Dee Do. My FitBit didn't care about the spinning class I went to early yesterday morning, or the hour of stretching and weight lifting I did after spinning. It congratulated me for mowing the lawn.

I'm on a crew team that rows Tuesday nights on the Allegheny river. My team and I rowed a solid five miles at race-level intensity for much of it, but my Fitbit didn't care. However, during the post-row barbecue, it made sure to measure every step I took as I walked around the boathouse wolfing down two hamburgers and a couple bottles of Corona.

I suppose I'm being a bit of a negative nelly here. The whole industry of fitness tracking is still in its infancy. Some day we will have a gadget that will warn us in advance when we're going to have a case of the hiccups, or remind us that the extra bag of peanut butter M&M's you're about to eat is going to get you .08% closer to becoming a diabetic. So until that time comes I will dutifully track my steps as I walk from my parked car to the office, as I wander through Costco in search of a great deal on thiry-eight pounds of muenster cheese, or as I mow the lawn. And in this way, perhaps I'll get us all .08% closer to saving the world.