Pitfalls of a Fitbit

big brother fitbitVery few things have complemented my obsessive side more than a fitbit. If you live under a rock on Mars or are my father, a fitbit is an activity tracker one wears like a wristwatch. It measures steps taken, steps climbed, distance traveled, exercise logged, calories burned, heart rate and quality of sleep.

Sometimes I think the fitbit was created for schmucks like myself; those who obsessively crave the buzzy approval of an energy chip in a bracelet for getting 10,000 steps in a day.

OCD aside, it has indeed had a positive impact on my life. In order to get that step goal, I walk even more than I used to, mostly by forgoing transport or modern conveniences. I haven’t taken a lift or an escalator in seven months. My waist size and belly have shrunken.

It was a perfect gift for an obsessive chubby guy.

One evening a few weeks ago, I met a friend at my local pub for few beers. I didn’t bother to wear my fitbit. It was Saturday, my lazy day, and I hadn’t left the house all day. A few hundred steps on a fitbit wasn’t going to matter. Oh well. No biggie.

When my friend suggested we head to another pub down the road I agreed, but could not deny feeling a nagging splinter of uneasiness. We walked out into the cold night and as we chugged along, I realized what it was: I wasn’t getting credit for these steps.


A few hundred more steps and I began counting to myself. I wondered if I could add them to the log later on somehow. I kept suggesting pubs along the way until my friend told me she had her heart set on the one down the road. Far down the road. I gathered it was probably 2,900 steps or so. (I’ve developed a peculiar adeptness for accurately counting steps).

We trudged on. Me, counting. She, trying to spark up a conversation and giving me curious glances. It seemed to take forever. When we got to the pub she stepped off to the restroom and I pulled out my notebook and jotted in slow, shaky numerals: 3,209.

I’m not the only one to discover the pitfalls of a fitbit.

A woman in Pennsylvania claimed an intruder attacked her while she was sleeping. However, an analysis of her fitbit proved that she’d been walking around, not sleeping, when the alleged attack took place. Police then noticed other loose ends and the woman eventually admitted to the false claim. She was charged with false reports to law enforcement.

Other people were slightly disconcerted when their sexual performance (in the form of logged exercise on the fitbit) was made public. Amazingly, the million or so online critics to their sexual performance were not so friendly. One woman wrote an article in which she wore her fitbit during sex and charted the entire (8 minute and 59 second!) performance. It was later scrutinized by a male audience.

Another man couldn’t figure out why his wife’s fitbit was picking up abnormal heart rates and was seemingly incapable of calculating her calorie burn. He brought the issue to the online gang at Reddit and was soon informed that his wife was pregnant. There are probably better ways to be informed you are going to be a father.

In any event, there’s certainly a Big Brother aspect to wearing a fitbit. This is becoming truer and truer in the U.S. where certain companies are essentially forcing a fitbit on its employees. They do this “for the employees’ well-being,” but the prodding, minor humiliations, and (sometimes) punishments for failing to “be healthier” are hard to accept without imagining a chubby man with a rat cage attached to his face.

It’s these sort of things that worry me about my fitbit future. At the moment, failure to acquire my 10,000 daily steps results in the withholding of my gold star and victory vibrate, and the appearance of a frown emoticon on my dashboard. All of which, sadly, affect me.

But where’s this going to go? Will the next fitbit software update include a more aggressive shaming system? Will my virtual coach begin wagging his finger, calling me a pussy, yelling at me if it senses I am eating a doughnut?

And what happens when the fitbit realizes I am being intimate (alone or with a partner)? Am I going to be shamed for a lackluster performance? The last thing I need is to apologize twice.

Big Brother Fitbit: Six minutes? Poor girl.

Me: No girl.

BBF: Dude, you need a hobby.

My obsessive side might love the fitbit, but my paranoid side is sleeping with one eye open…I wonder if the fitbit will notice.

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