As the managing editor of this website, I write about wearable tech almost every day. And at some point last year, I started to notice that I was the only one of my colleagues without some sort of tracking band on my wrist. Was I missing out? I figured that I should probably be practicing what I preached, so unwilling to take the plunge on my own, I finally asked for a FitBit for Christmas. I took an enthusiastic Instagram photo on Christmas morning, grey FitBit Charge flashing on my wrist: “Joining the #quantifiedself movement this Christmas with my brand new fitness tracker #fitforlife,” I declared.
While I’m a fairly active person and a healthy eater, I spend hours sitting in front of my laptop screen. I figured that my new step tracker would give me the incentive I needed to get up and move even more. I’m also a notoriously bad sleeper, so I hoped that sleep data would help me sleep more soundly. And I’ll admit: it worked for a while. I became obsessed with (and depressed by) checking my daily data, and with the vibration that signaled success. I kept the band on my wrist for every second of a few months. But then, very slowly, I started to take the band off… first for 30 minutes, then for an hour, then for a day. The device didn’t track the hours I spent at yoga, which frustrated me. Its declaration that I was only getting two hours of “sound sleep” every night made me paranoid and I spent hours trying to fall asleep without moving. Eventually, I stopped using the FitBit altogether. Four months later, the grey band is under a stack of health magazines on my desk – battery dead, dusty and unused.
So the big question: Why? Of course, some people swear by their fitness trackers. But others decry the trackers as yet another entry in the saga of gadget fever. Why do these devices work for some of us, but not for others? And more importantly, how can we turn these trackers into real medical devices designed to improve health in a clinically based way when many trackers have received criticism for the lack of medical research backing their functionality? Are we onto something with these trackers, or is this whole thing simply a flash trend?
This week, our experts consider the potential and challenges of fitness trackers for driving true medical improvement.
Jenni Whalen is the Executive Assistant of Editorial at Upworthy. She was previously MedTech Boston's Managing Editor and has an MS in Journalism from Boston University, as well as a BA in Psychology from Bucknell University. Whalen has written for Greatist, Boston magazine, AZ Central Healthy Living and the New England Journal of Medicine, among other places. She has also worked as a conference planner, ghost writer, researcher and content developer.
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