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Fitbit and the Value of Quantitative Feedback July 31, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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Since the beginning of 2014, I have mostly neglected my modest workout regimen. I had job issues and then health issues, and simply lost the motivation to exercise on a regular basis. I was mostly at home, and fairly immobile.

Then I got a Fitbit. For those of you not aware, Fitbit is a family of activity tracker devices. I didn’t know a lot about it before getting it, but it was inexpensive and I thought might provide an interesting way of monitoring what I did on a day to day basis.

My particular model is the Fitbit One, a memory stick-sized device that uses a rubber sheath to clip to your belt or other surface. The clip is a friction one-size-fits-all device, and I soon discovered that my belt was too thick for it to retain a firm hold. Instead, I usually clip it to a belt loop. You can also get the Fitbit Flex, which you wear like a watch on your wrist.

The Fitbit comes with no instructions for use, other than to plug in the wireless USB dongle. The dongle is tiny (similar to a wireless mouse dongle), and provides a Bluetooth connection to the computer, and from there to your account on the Fitbit website. Without any further instructions, I assumed that the wire attaching the Fitbit to a USB port was the dongle, and fumbled around for a few minutes in setting it up.

All of this sounds slightly discouraging, but it wasn’t difficult to work through, and soon I had a Fitbit account on the website (free, although the company also offers a premium service), and the device attached to my person. I didn’t do anything different for the first several hours, but later in the afternoon I synced the device with the website and looked at my results.

Well, wow. It showed that I had taken several thousand steps, burned off more than a thousand calories (an estimate based on my height and weight), and climbed 14 flights of stairs. It measured my progress based on preset goals that can easily be changed.

That real time feedback encouraged me to become more aggressive in my activity routine. Today, four days later, I’m averaging over an hour of “intense activity” (a brisk walk, soon to be supplemented with a jog), 13-15K steps, 50+ flights of stairs, and 2700 burned calories. Without other obligations, I can easily see myself increasing my activity indefinitely.

Certainly there is a self-competitive nature within me that is enabling this activity. And it remains to be seen if I can keep this up over time. But the immediate and quantitative feedback on my activity is turning me into a demon.

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1. A Milestone of Physical, Well, Something | Cutting Edge Computing - August 17, 2014

[…] healthy in my latter middle age. I remain active, in a passive sort of way. But after acquiring a Fitbit, I rediscovered the self-competitive part of my nature. Almost every day for the past three weeks, […]


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