Several Christmases ago I bought myself a pedometer, a Geopalz “Global Footprint,” to
keep up with my kids, who got other Geopalz as gifts.
Four years later and I’m the only one who still cares. That Global Footprint has been lost and found too many times to count: in my Belmont backyard after mowing the lawn, in a store dressing room, in the garage, in my classroom at work in Newton, in the weight room on a cruise ship, and on the way back from a waterfall in Hawaii. (In that case, it was my son who fished it out of the water.) It survived a spin in the washing machine after not being removed from my pants pocket. My teenage daughter’s iPhone-in-the-toilet story may top all of these, but just barely.
After its final farewell, somewhere unknown at the school in Massachusetts where I taught (and where I was trying to see if I could increase the amount I walked around the classroom while I was lecturing), I got fed up.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t love exercise, am not particularly hard-core with respect to fitness, and sometimes tracking and goals and all this quantitation can be positively de-motivating for me. In the Global Footprint days, I despaired of ever meeting the recommended goal of 10K steps per day. I even suspected that, as much as the Global Footprint had been through, it was undercounting. Sometimes I’d watch it as I walked and it didn’t always move. Or it didn’t move right away and then would all of the sudden count up 20 steps. Like the watched pot that never boils, it seemed to do its best work out of sight and out of mind.
So, I asked the school teachers in a pro forma way if any of them had seen it (they had not), and decided it was time for a change. The Global Footprint pedometer was certainly cute, and it went all environmental on you, but it wasn’t very well designed for my lifestyle. I didn’t care that it didn’t track my sleep, the calories I ate, the water I drank, the number of flights of stairs that I climbed, or sync to my smartphone. But I did care if it stayed the f*ck on my person.
I bought a wrist unit, a New Balance Life Trainer. Overnight, it became incredibly easy to meet the goal. Folding laundry while watching TV: another 400 steps. Playing a Haydn quartet on the violin with a lot of 16th notes: another 750 steps as my bow arm moved back and forth. I went from a questionable 7500 steps per day to more than 11000 steps per day. Occasionally, if I was sick, or spent the whole day in the car on a trip, I’d look at the pedometer and think, okay, I should take a little walk tonight before bed so I get enough steps. But mostly I allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of security and fitness. I didn’t need to work out: I walked 11,000 steps a day.
Well, this Christmas I got a Fitbit Charge and I’ve been wearing it since December 31. It’s another wristy, but Fitbit seems to have figured out how to keep most of the laundry folding and violin playing out of the daily step total. It has to be charged every few days, it and my smart phone are buddies, and unlike the other slacker devices I have owned, it’s a virtual palooza of data that I’m not particularly interested in. For example, I’m ignoring its calorie, water, and weight functions, and I’m amused that it doesn’t seem to even consider riding a stationary bike to be exercise (although it included that time in its “active minute” total).
But I like the way it measures my sleep and how many flights of stairs I have climbed. And I like that its counts seem to fit best the way I feel and what I internally think I’ve been doing. It’s harder to get to 10,000 steps a day with the Fitbit than with the New Balance, but not impossible, the way it seemed with the Global Footprint towards the end of its life.
Wearing a fitbit has also started informing my writing. In the universe I’ve created in 2074 for Hallie’s Cache and Before the Darkness, people wear technology that informs them of all these things and more. They check the devices when they decide what they are having for meals, school sports teams use them for training. This is easier for them than it is for us today because some of the technology is implanted in their bodies, and the information is simply there for the thinking.
I have a character, Hallie—the main character—who rebels against all the tracking. Using her device gives her a headache and so she doesn’t wear it often. She ignores its sage advice when it limits her, when it tells her, for example, what her current pace should be based on her calculated level of fitness and her past performance. She runs too fast, then (figuratively) crashes and burns. She doesn’t achieve her goals in that setting and quits the track team. I find this impulse interesting, and relatable. I’m not sure if readers will or not. I’m still wearing my fitbit, though.