After spending more than a month with my new fitness tracker, it is now my turn to share how it has been going so far with a Fitbit on my wrist for all this time.

I am going to be honest, I am usually the type of user who impatiently ‘clicks to agree’ after swiftly scrolling down the ‘terms and conditions’ in order to get started with the device/app as soon as possible. That is NOT how I did this time. Even though I was very excited about getting the project started and to finally start wearing the Fitbit on my wrist, I waited until I had time to -at least- shoot a glance at the terms and conditions and the informed consent. When I finally did, it took some time even just to scan through these bulks of information and to try to comprehend to what extent I was actually in charge of my data archive. At the end, however, I had no other option but to ‘click to agree’ in order to be able to start using the device. In other words, being informed did not necessarily change my decision making or the outcome behavior; which made me ask myself: If I have no control over the prospect of my personal data that is being archived, why bother reading and learning all this information? Do you want to know how an ethicist felt going through this process? Then have a look at the previous post by Iris!

 “If I have no control over the prospect of my personal data that is being archived, why bother reading and learning all this information?”

Change in daily routine

Right after purchasing the Fitbits and starting out the project, I moved to Cyprus for a couple of months, where most of my daily routines were changed. One of the obvious changes was the absence of my bike; given that Limassol is not really a bike-friendly city, I needed to go everywhere on foot. Such wonderful timing for someone who just started to track her steps! Having the curiosity to explore a new city together with the novelty of wearing such a tool, I spent the first few weeks continuously checking the device to see how much I walked. To witness the numbers increasing was a reinforcing feedback for sure, stimulating me to walk more until I reached my daily goal by the end of the day. I must say, after a couple of weeks, the very fact of wearing a Fitbit started to give me some insights not only in terms of how active I was on average, but also in terms of making estimations about distances, for instance enabling me to guess how far it was from my favorite coffee place to the beach. During the day when I mostly sit in front of the computer, I often feel lazy after checking the numbers on the screen. But then, I started to realize I could easily estimate that grabbing a coffee from Starbucks down the street and coming back would get me the numbers I needed to reach my daily goal.

Perceived self-image

Right after I started using the device, something interesting happened that I would not think I would experience otherwise. My perceived self-image was being influenced, albeit not continuously, simply from wearing a fitness tracker.

In my daily routine, I try to go for a run at least once a week. Until the start of this project, the only thing I tracked while running was time; I would simply run for half an hour and would not really care how many calories were burned or how far I had run. It was nothing more than a physical activity I had been doing for fun, knowing that it feels good afterwards. But then, during my first run with the Fitbit on my wrist, I could not help but keep checking how far I had been running, almost every 5 minutes. Before Fitbit, without knowing the distance, I would stop running after half an hour. However, this time, after checking the numbers by the end of the run and seeing that it had been four kilometers, I pushed myself for another kilometer to make it to a complete 5K; which was also accompanied by a great sense of achievement.

Another thing that got me right away, I must say, was the gestures; I loved the gesture of lifting my arm and pushing some buttons while swiping the screen to check my data while continuing to run. I was a “pro” in running and sending a message across to other runners passing by: “I do not just run, I run because there is a goal to be accomplished!”. It felt empowering and kind of ambitious, exactly the same way I felt when I participated in my only 10K race so far, where I grabbed a cup of water while passing by the stopover, took a sip of water and threw the cup away without slowing down, like a real pro (insert the smiley face with sunglasses here).

While wearing the device -arguably- had a positive effect on my perceived self-image, it, at the same time, had some detrimental effects with its asymmetrical frequency of notifications I receive when achieving vs. failing the goals. For the sake of the project, I have turned on every feature in order to experience each and every service the device has to offer. One of these notifications is the hourly reminders of how many steps one has taken per hour and how many more one should take in order to be able to make it to the daily goal by the end of the day. So, during the days when I sit in front of the computer for more than an hour, I get a vibration on my wrist with a notification saying ‘47 / 250 is done, 103 more steps to go’. This drove me crazy. First of all, if I am sitting in front of the computer and working for more than an hour, chances are that I am in ‘zen mode’ and concentrated on my work, which does not happen all the time with all the distractions around (thank you, open office culture). So, receiving this notification in such a context is nothing but a distraction. It also made me slightly irritated because hey, I just ran 5K yesterday, what is really the point of reminding me to take 50 more steps? In a way, I wanted the device to acknowledge my self-image, the image that says if I want to, I do get active, if there aren’t enough numbers on the screen, it is probably for  reason. So, what happened after engaging with such notifications for a while was bewilderingly discouraging; I caught myself providing explanations for my -not so active- day and reminding myself of previous day’s work out to not damage my self-image. Even though I was motivated to receive these notifications in the beginning because I wanted to experience the features, I have recently turned them off – they were simply nothing but annoying.

“I just ran 5K yesterday, what is the point of reminding me to take 50 more steps, really?

Overall, the use of self-tracking had both positive as well as negative impact on my self-image at the same time. I can’t wait to observe and see how long lasting these effects are going to be.

The feeling of intimacy

One week into the project, I remember checking the screen one day while waiting in the line for a coffee, standing next to a group of people. One of the guys in this group saw the screen with the information of my height and weight, the kind of information that is not so difficult to hide and can be guessed very easily. However, acknowledging the fact that he now knows my weight and height with exact precision, made me feel like I was exposing very important information about myself. It got me thinking: If sharing even such mundane data feels intimate, how can people feel comfortable sharing their data with others in the Fitbit community? One can argue that connecting with friends and family and sharing each other’s personal information can actually ameliorate social bonding amongst the group. Maybe we’ll give it a try and share our data with Iris. Or maybe not. I do not know how comfortable we both feel about this. We’ll see how the project goes.

Overall, two months into the project, I can definitely see the benefits the device brings into my daily life. At the same time, however, being up to date to with relevant literature makes the potential negative side effects much more salient in my mind. Are these drawbacks going to fade away over time? Or, on the contrary, will they turn into a snowball? I guess these are the questions to be answered in my next post.

Did you miss what this project was about? Read our manifesto here

NB: The views here expressed are mine. They do not represent the views of our research group, affiliated parties, or the TU/e.