Jawbone announced the Up3 today, reportedly its most advanced fitness tracker to date.
As with all fitness trackers, the Up3 has an accelerometer, but it also has sensors for measuring skin and ambient temperature, as well as something called bioimpedence. As these data collected by the Up3 are used by a new feature called Smart Coach.
You can imagine what the Smart Coach does. It sounds like a cool, possibly creepy, feature.
This post is not about the Up3.
This post is about my journey into the dark heart of the quantified self. The Up3 has just reminded me to coalesce my thoughts.
Misfit calculates activity based on points, and my personal goal of 1,000 points was relatively easy to reach every day, even for someone who works from home. What I realized quickly was that the Shine pushed me to chase points, not activity.
The Shine uses its accelerometer to measure activity, so depending on where I wore it on my person, a run could be worth more points. This isn’t unique to the Shine. I’ve seen people spinning at the gym wearing their fitness trackers on their ankles.
As the weeks passed, I found myself avoiding activities that didn’t register a lot of points, definitely not good behavior, and even though my goal was 1,000 points, I avoided raising it for fear of missing my daily goal-achievement dopamine high.
Then, mid-Summer, Misfit dropped an update that added some new game mechanics, and one day, my Shine app happily informed me that I’d hit my goal 22 days in a row.
This streak was the beginning of the end for me.
On the 29th day of my streak, the battery died. I replaced it, crisis averted, streak in tact. Then, later that day, the Shine inexplicably died. I tried several new batteries and finally had to contact support.
All the while, I worried about my streak. I went to gym, but it felt hollow and meaningless without the tangible representation, the coaching, as it were, from my Shine.
This is not a good look.
Misfit replaced my Shine, but in the days that elapsed, during my detox, I decided to let it go. Turns out the quantified self isn’t for obsessive, overly-competitive personality types like me.
And I’m not the only one in this group.
In September, I read an article called Stepping Out: Living the Fitbit Life, in which the author, David Sedaris, describes a similar obsession with his Fitbit. As I read it, I commiserated, but I also felt a little jealous of the level of his commitment. This dude makes me look like a rank amateur.
Definitely worth a read.
Anyway, this is not in any meant to be an indictment of the Shine, Fitbit, Jawbone or any fitness tracker. Overall, these devices offer people a positive and effective way to reenforce healthy behavior and habits.
But for people like, they lead to unanticipated side effects. As I read about the Up3, its sensors and Smart Coach, all of which sound very cool, I had to remind myself of the bad places where I went with the Shine.
And the colloquial, functionally-incorrect but very memorable, definition of insanity.
In Part 2, when I get around to it, I’ll discuss the flaws in the game mechanics these companies use.
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