Wearables work: a personal journey with Fitbit

Wearables, those weird little devices that sit in a pocket or strap round a wrist and keep an eye on what we're up to, are undoubtedly one of this years bigger tech stories. It's the internet of things come to life, little bits of every day technology that suddenly seem much smarter than they ought to be. I've been keeping a eye on them for some time, but always at a distance, until some personal changes led to me exploring them a little closer.

To cut a longer story shorter, I needed some patching up. I managed to break some of myself - again - so it was back to theatre for some cut and paste, and I'm not talking about the sort of theatre with ice creams. Anyone who's ever been through that themselves will know that the doctors seems to have something of an obsession with weight, so I was weighed as usual ... and was found wanting. The figure was a bit larger than I was expecting. It was a lot larger than I was expecting. I knew I was a little bigger than I should have been, and yes perhaps the trousers were a little tighter than usual, but ... I'm sorry ... how much did you say that was again??

So I was overweight. Actually, it was worse than that, given a few more pies I'd be crossing the BMI border into obese before too long. It was obviously high time to do something about this, but what? Well, I'm techy, let's face it - so it had to be a tech solution. Time to see what this wearable lark really meant in practice.

Fitbit Aria
I had a look at the options, Nike (since left the party), Fitbit, Withins, Jawbone, etc. Fitbit seemed to have the best combination of hardware and software for my needs, so I jumped in deep into the wearables pool. First up, a Fitbit Aria scale - that just confirmed the horrible truth. Next then, a Fitbit One. Discrete little pocket tracker, with a good reputation and reasonable accuracy. Joining it all together, the Fitbit App for Android.

So that was back in March. It's now June. How have I faired? Put it this way, I'm not overweight anymore.

Fitbit One
Now I don't want to reflect on the hardware and software particularly, though I do think the Fitbit tech is very well made and perfect for the job. Can't exactly do a comparative analysis, as the Fitbit technology is all I've used, but it does do what all good tech should do - it just works. You don't have to worry about configuring this, and installing that, you can actually get on with the two things that are proven to reduce weight - increase activity and cut intake. That's what I did, and hey presto, now I'm not overweight.

So the big question from this blogs point of view is - what role did the technology play in all this? It didn't provide the initial need or intention, that came from me. It didn't provide the increased activity or the cut in intake, that was me as well. What it did provide was a mirror for those aspects of my life which matched those those crucial areas - increased activity and reduced intake. It allowed me to see visually, and explore analytically, how well my intention and my actions were impacting my goals on a day to day basis. It took the abstract, and it make it visible.

The concept of mirroring has cropped up in my research as well, the idea that what technologies give us - what a specific technology "provides or furnishes" to use the language of affordances, is a mirror on to ourselves. The digital place created by the Fitbit technology, reflected back to me through the app on my various devices or though my web browser, connected me to a simulation of my progress which provided ongoing motivation and direction. It let me know how much I had done, and also let me know how much I had yet to do, on a daily basis. You could say the embedded cognition within the technology, the thoughts of those who understand these issues wrapped up in clever computer algorithms, was constantly with me: advising, recommending and prompting me every time I had to make a decision about whether to walk or take the bus, have the cake or the apple, eat a salad or some pasta. That kind of support is invaluable when trying to reduce weight - and the level at which I was receiving it would be impossible without the technology.

More and more I tend to think of technology as digital places, not just tools but entirely new places that we experience through our screens - but these are digital places that are effectively the embedded cognition of individuals, real people with real talent and expertise. They are never generic techs, they are the digital embodiment of their creators - with all their brilliance, and flaws, all their insight and fallabilities (is that a word?). Techs are good not because they are good techs, but because they are made by good people.

Anyhow, I'm off to celebrate not being overweight. Which probably means by the time you read this, I'll be overweight again :-) But with the help of my digital mirrors, I'm confident I'll be back into 'normal' again soon, and I intend to stay there!

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