Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Why I stopped wearing my fitness tracker, aka the Wrist Tyrant

If you’ve spent any time on Earth over the past two years, first of all, I’m sorry, because it’s basically been an s-show the entire time, especially here in the U.S. But it also means you’ve likely heard of wearable activity trackers like the FitBit, Up, and Vivofit. These devices log your steps, your sleep, and if you spring for one of the really good ones, your heart rate, caloric burn and other theoretically useful health information.

These days, when you see someone glance at her wrist, it’s not because she cares what time it is –she looks at her phone for that, of course –but rather because she wants to know how many more steps she has to take before she can eat an extra piece of cheesecake. Or maybe that’s just me. Or was me, I should say, because I stopped wearing my wearable two months ago, and I’m pleased to report I don’t miss it at all.

As of Halloween, I had a Garmin Vivosmart, and it was the third such device I had purchased in as many years. (I’ve had pet goldfish that lasted longer than any of these things.) I bought Garmins because they, unlike the others, are water-resistant up to 50 meters, an important feature for those of us who are too absentminded to remember to take the thing off before we swim or shower.

My first Garmin, a black rubber/plastic thing, was a basic job that tracked my daily steps and sleep. It reminded me to move by way of a red line that grew with my inertia until my sloth caused it to blink in silent alarm. From a visibility perspective, the device was fairly low-profile. If it made a fashion statement at all, that statement was, “Yes, I realize this is not a FitBit.”

My Very First Garmin (RIP)

My Very First Garmin (RIP)

My first Vivofit died slowly, its digital display shrinking until the numbers were reduced to a series of incomprehensible dashes.

I bought an intermediate version that also met its untimely, Morse Code-like demise, and then I upgraded to the Vivosmart, a device that made an altogether different fashion statement, namely: “I am too cheap to buy a smartwatch.”

In addition to tracking your activity and sleep, and potentially pairing with a heart monitor if you’re into that (which I wasn’t), the Vivosmart vibrated any time you got a text or a call. At least that’s how it was supposed to work. In practice, mine vibrated every time I got too far away from my phone. Separation anxiety, I guess. Sometimes it experienced this angst while I was conked out, a disturbance a long-term insomniac like me did not need. Eventually the Vivosmart’s display shrank too, such that I would know someone was calling or texting because my wrist buzzed, but I would have no idea who it was, or what they were trying to tell me. If that’s a smart device, I’d hate to see a dumb one.

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 11.28.35 PM

That got me questioning the wisdom of not just the device but also its wearer. I bought this gadget to keep me moving, but did I really need technology to give me a reminder? I’m a lawyer, not a sherpa, so it only stands to reason that I need to make time for exercise every day to combat the effects of a sedentary profession.

And maybe this device was supposed to help me pay more attention to my health habits, but by alerting me to every text, call, or achievement in movement (or lack thereof), it was actually taking me out of the moment and causing me to pay less attention to the world around me.  My smartphone, on which I depend far more than I’d like to admit, already excels at driving me to distraction, so I don’t need to wear a gadget that buzzes my wrist every time it wants attention, no matter how worthy or convenient the interruption. If I really want that experience, I can just hang out with my favorite toddlers.

Don’t get me wrong: I love useful technology. But technology that conditions me to rely on it to tell me what I already know –that I need to stand up, go outside, and get moving –well, that doesn’t seem very useful at all.

Now please pass the cheesecake.

Comments

  1. Your observation about the goldfish living longer was funny and spot on. I laughed out loud reading this in a waiting room. I never actually bought one for myself, but claimed two by adverse possession. First, my husband tired of his early on and wanted to wear a nice watch and not a black piece of rubber. He also keeps track of steps by his phone. I started wearing his promptly jumped to pool. Killing that one. Then my son lost interest in his— and it didn’t last five months with me. So for now I’m going old school and stepping on the scale every morning.