Sam wrote this morning about replacing her fitbit with a garmin and noted all the “ink that’s been spilt” on this blog about tracker apps. I personally giggle constantly at the way Tracy hates counting steps but keeps getting drawn in. But really, how much does step counting or any kind of tracking motivate us?
Like Sam and Tracy, I have a history of getting bedazzled by devices, as the tangle of charging cords on my desk attests to. I like to keep track of things — I have annual running and riding distance targets Strava tracks for me, and last year, I really did make an effort in the last three days to hit my riding target (it helped that I was on a bike trip at the time). I’m doing the “217 workouts in 2017” challenge on Facebook, and I find that if I go a couple of days without posting anything, I do get my butt out for a run or to the gym. I have every intention of hitting my annual target there. (I’m at 169).
So on a macro level, keeping track of my fitness seems to motivate me to Do Things. But even though my garmin that I wear all the time as a watch keeps track of my steps, I rarely find myself trying to make a particular target on a daily basis. I like to see a high number if I happen to hit one by walking around a strange city, but it’s very rare for me to go downstairs and walk around the block if I haven’t hit my basic target by 9 pm.
That changed when the Carrot Rewards app came along. Carrot is a partnership between the Public Health Agency of Canada, various health promotion agencies and private sector partners. Basically, you pick the rewards you want — points for Air Canada miles, movie tickets, gas or Drop or More (which seem to be usable for things I don’t use) — and for every day you meet your step target, you “win” 2 points. Once a week they send you little quizzes about health and wellness and you earn more points by answering them. Mallory wrote about this when it first came out.
The Carrot app is wildly imperfect. It counts steps by connecting either to your fitbit or health app on your phone, and at this point there are no links for garmin. There are often huge discrepancies between what my garmin watch shows as my steps vs. my phone, with my watch showing usually 3000 – 4000 more steps per day. I went for a run a couple of weeks ago and had my phone tucked into my hip belt, and my gait must have been too steady because the phone showed about 3km when my GPS tracked 8km.
And unlike some fitness trackers, Carrot doesn’t “convert” different activities to steps — I rode my bike 35 km around the city last Friday, but I didn’t meet my modest daily step goal. My strava and garmin are linked to my apple health app on my phone, but the translation is imperfect — I have found that unless I sync my garmin twice a day (hard, because no bluetooth), the steps never show up retroactively on the carrot app. And conversely, yesterday I went for a 100 km bike ride, and my phone app tracked a mysterious 201 km ridden, nearly 13000 steps (and 147 flights climbed, lol) vs. the 6500 steps on my watch.
In other words, the apple health app is wonky and the Carrot app is kind of merely notional. If you are an avid and meticulous counter of steps, it will probably piss you off. I can’t speak for androids, but the way the apple health tracks steps is buggy. And — I love it. I love to travel, and getting aeroplan points for doing what I do most days anyway gives me a tiny twinge of pleasure at the end of every day. I love the extra boost I get from the weekly quizzes where I get to feel smug about knowing most of the answers, and then getting 5 – 10 aeroplan points. And — unlike every other step tracker I’ve used — it actually motivates me to get up, leave my house at 9 pm and walk the additional 1500 or 2000 steps I might have missed earlier in the day. Although I might get an ice cream cone on that walk :-).
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, a regular contributor to this blog. She lives and works in Toronto.