Move! F**k you!

So I asked here recently about buying a new FitBit.

We’ve all got opinions. Michelle just ditched hers. Tracy hates all forms of tracking. Other Tracy is on a FitBit holiday. Not me. In general, I’m a fan of tracking and of fitness tracking gadgets.

Unlike Michelle, I think it does influence my behavior positively. And I like the information. Unlike the the Tracys I never feel haunted by it. I seem to be able to pay attention when it’s useful and look away when it’s not.

But this time I didn’t buy another FitBit. I’m rough on things. I break them. And the durability reviews of the various FitBits weren’t great. For running (when I’m running, which isn’t often these days, I use a Garmin running watch) and for cycling, I’ve got a Garmin bike computer. So why not try a Garmin fitness tracker?

I opted for the inexpensive, small, Vivosmart 3. There’s no GPS but it does pretty much what my old FitBit did.

There is one exception that I might just have to turn off.

That’s the reminder to move.

The watch vibrates and displays the word “MOVE!” on the screen when you’ve sat still for too long. It did it during a recent concert, on a car trip yesterday, and while I was helping to install flooring on the 3rd floor of my house.

It turns out that’s just a bit too bossy for me. I kept wanting to explain myself to the watch. Yesterday in the car I actually swore at it. I said the words, the full words, that are in the title of this post. And I’m not a casual swearer.

I think maybe without the exclamation mark it would be okay. Maybe they should add a question mark, like a gentle invitation to consider moving.

How do you feel about being told to move by your watch? Like the reminder or find that steps over a line?


100 days of counting steps: Are we there yet? #VirginPulse #GlobalChallenge! #GettheWorldMoving #WesternU

It’s Day 97! And like Tracy (see her blog post on wanting this to end any time now) I’m ready for the workplace team building step counting exercise to be over. It ends on my birthday. Yippee! Happy birthday to me!

Mostly I’m frustrated because my FitBit is broken (see Should Sam buy a new FitBit? What’s your two cents?) and while it counts steps it won’t sync with the app and so I have to manually enter my steps each day. Oh the horror! I know. It’s a ridiculous thing to mind but I found when my FitBit automatically uploaded the data and automatically synced with the Global whatever challenge app, I didn’t have to think about it. Steps were tracked and occasionally I just logged in to add bike miles. For some reason needing to remember each night and see what my steps were felt so much more onerous.

What I liked about the automatic counting was that I could pay attention or not. If it felt motivational, I went with it. If it started to feel oppressive I ignored it for a few days and just did my usual thing. Given that my usual thing is still pretty active that worked okay for me.

After 100 days of counting steps, where did I land? My average is somewhere between 18,000 and 19,000 steps a day thanks to dog companions, bike riding, and not driving very much. Also I learned that living in a large house with four stories makes a difference. I get up to 4,000 without even leaving the house thanks to basement laundry and lots of roaming from room to room looking for things. Here Garmin! Here heart rate monitor strap! Sports bras, come out come out wherever you are!

By comparison the average step count among those taking part at my university is 12,548.

But my team’s average is over 25,000 steps a day. Over-achievers! I’m part of a team with serious triathletes all training for Iron distance events. They easily leave me in the dust with all that running, biking, and swimming. They are the three activities the challenge tracks. I like the challenge of running with the big dogs. Being the one who aspires to keep up suits my personally. I don’t think I’d be happy being the top achiever on one of these teams.

I’m glad the challenge included my six bike rally days. You can see them below. Big big days.

I was less happy with the activities I do that it didn’t count, like paddling in Algonquin.

Even the portages only sort of count. I mean, yes it counts the steps but no special credit is given for the 50 lb canoe on your shoulders! Or the balance it takes to walk with a pack through ankle deep mud.

And strength training doesn’t count either.

Neither did all the carrying of patio stones and wood flooring and hampers of laundry I move about the house.

So while it’s one aspect of fitness I did find it shifted the focus away from other things I really care about.

Sam’s short version summary review of the challenge: I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a lot more when my FitBit was working and I didn’t have to think about it. And I’ll be glad come my birthday when we’re done.


Should Sam buy a new FitBit? What’s your two cents?

We know what Tracy would say! So I haven’t asked her.

But I kind of like counting things. (“Kind of?!”, asks Sarah)

The issue is this. Mine is broken, falling apart, and we’re a few weeks away from the end of the workplace fitness challenge. My choice is struggle along with the broken one and chuck it at the end of the challenge. I could let those who hate fitness trackers stomp on it for fun! Or buy a new one. If I’m going to buy a new one I’d like to do it now since this one is a pain. I’ll explain in a minute.

An aside: I live in a product testing sort of household. We’re tough on stuff. If it survives my family, buy it. Seriously. Car door handles have come off in my hand. Don’t get me started on the kids. We all break things. So the FitBit tragedy is no big surprise.

What happened? Well, it got wet a lot. I don’t come in when it rains and I do lots of physically hard things. The strap started to fall apart. I bought a new strap. But that never quite worked. Now my FitBit won’t even sync with my the app on my phone and in order to charge it I have to hold the whole thing together with a clothes pin. It looks silly and the not syncing kind of tips the scale. The new strap is purple and while I like purple for the strap it also makes the screen purple and I can’t easily read the numbers.

I’m trying to decide if I should think of the FitBit as an interesting experiment or something I want to continue.

What do I like? I like the heart rate data. I like the social aspects. (Hi mom!) I like tracking sleep.

Steps are easy for me I’ve discovered because I don’t drive to work and I live in a large house and there are dogs in the world. I like hitting the extra big numbers when I travel. But my regular everyday steps are pretty good too. So the step counting is mostly just an exercise in self-congratulation. Go me!

It’s also sort of cool having the time on my wrist again after all these years of not. I like the syncing and I like seeing trends over time. In an ideal world, I’d get a scale that also synced with the FitBit app on my phone and count all the things.

What don’t I like? The aesthetics. It’s ugly. Also, it’s not even ugly and durable. See remarks above. It covers up my beautiful wrist ink, sort of. It’s also expensive. The FitBits with heart rate data are in the $200 range.

So, what’s your two cents? Do you have a fitness tracker? Do you recommend it?


One person’s self-survelliance is another person’s self care: FitBits, for and against


I lost my FitBit briefly this week and it brought to light a funny, longstanding disagreement between Tracy and me. I posted to Facebook about losing it. Friends chimed in sympathetically with hints and tips about finding things.

Cate said, “Tech is apparently for losing.” She’s blogged about her love/hate relationship with fitness technology here.

This blog’s Martha told a story of a friend who lost her FitBit and got it replaced by the company.

But Tracy’s comment when the thing was inevitably located, as lost things often are (thanks Sarah!),  made me laugh out loud. Tracy wrote, “Back to monitoring your every move. I honestly don’t get the fit bit thing. I was relieved for you when you lost it.” I had known that Tracy wasn’t happy with the Global Corporate Challenge team fitness tracking. She compared it to the panopticon.

I wasn’t without the FitBit for long but I missed the reminder to go to bed and get some rest. I could see that I’d miss tracking sleep. I also liked knowing my resting heart rate. When I was training seriously on the bike we used resting heart rate for measuring recovery after recovery weeks.  (I didn’t really need it for tracking steps it turns out.)

A feminist philosopher friend lost hers a few weeks ago. (Hi S!) And when she posted about missing it she said it was one of the few things she did for self care. Like me, actually more than me, she cares for a lot of people in her family.

The contrast between the FitBit as self-care and the FitBit as surveillance tool strikes me as interesting, as capturing two different things that go on in women’s lives.

First, there’s the role many of us play in our families caring for children and for the elderly. It can be hard when that’s your life to pause and pay attention to your own needs. When I blogged about tracking food, see Another perspective on tracking, that’s what I said appealed to me about it.

I wrote, “Mostly it feels liberating. Sometimes it feels like a chore.  But in a hectic busy family with lots of meals, snacks, and groceries on the go my food log often serves as a way to remind me that what I eat matters. For me, it’s much more about making sure I take care of myself.”

Second, there’s the pressure on women to discipline our bodies, to take care of ourselves from the point of view of attaining or maintaining an attractive, thin appearance. From that point of view the FitBit and other forms of tracking look like body surveillance tools.

In her post, Tracking and the Panopticon, Tracy wrote, “The reason I despise tracking is that I see it as a kind of monitoring and self-regulation that functions very like the panopticon.  In case you don’t remember (or never knew), Jeremy Bentham (18th C philosopher) came up with this design for prisons such that the inmates wouldn’t be able to tell whether they were being watched at any given time. Michel Foucault built on this idea, driving home the point that the power over the prisoners arose from their ignorance about whether they were being observed.  The discipline came through their self-monitoring more than through external force.  Feminist philosopher, Sandra Bartky, gave this scenario a uniquely feminist interpretation, arguing that women exert this kind of self-discipline over their bodies. The monitoring is internalized and self-imposed. It’s that self-imposed monitoring and need to exert control that concerns me about tracking.”

I’ve enjoyed teaching a course on fashion and feminism this year and one of the lessons students have learned is that things can have multiple meanings. While most were opposed to cosmetic surgery, for example, on feminist grounds, there’s this perspective too. We had a really fun class on Dolly Parton and the meaning of Dolly’s fashion choices. And so it is, I think, with tracking and the FitBit. It depends on your context and how and where you live. One person’s important act of self care could very well be another person’s self surveillance tool.

That conversation between people who share feminist commitments and a desire to get strong and find joy in movement, but who disagree about lots of the details (like bicycles and tracking!) is one of the things I love about our blog.


Where do you stand? Do you find the FitBit (and its ilk) a soul crushing tool of body surveillance or a liberating opportunity for much needed self-care? And as I tell my students, there are no right answers here. 


Sarah turns 50 and upgrades her fitness tracker (Reblog)

Sarah writes,

I was getting bored with the Fitbit Charge: kind of plain and it doesn’t track my heart rate. Just having turned 50 (I think of it as upgrading to version 5.0), and having a chat with doctor, it was time to get a device that monitored my heart.

The last time I looked at the Fitbit HR Charge, $199.99, it still didn’t have an app for my Windows phone. And it’s still boring.

This is the problem with most fitness trackers, people get bored with them.

I started looking for something else.

You can read the rest here: Stepping up from the Fitbit to the Microsoft Band


Fitness Data Spoofing?

Wow. Faking your FitBit data for insurance purposes. It had to happen. But so soon?

This actually touches a few of my research interests. I teach a class in ethics for a digital world and it certainly works as a case study there. Now that companies are giving bonuses to employees who track fitness and share the data, there’s an incentive for fraud. Maybe “fraud” is too harsh but “spoof” seems a tad light.

Here’s the company’s promo: “At Unfit Bits, we are investigating DIY fitness spoofing techniques to allow you to create walking datasets without actually having to share your personal data. These techniques help produce personal data to qualify you for insurance rewards even if you can’t afford a high exercise lifestyle. ”


Free your fitness data from yourself.
Earn insurance discounts!
A guide to fitness tracker solutions.

“Does your lifestyle prevent you from qualifying for insurance discounts?
Do you lack sufficient time for exercise or have limited access to sports facilities?
Maybe you just want to keep your personal data private without having to pay higher insurance premiums for the privilege?

Fitbit Spoofing provides solutions. At Unfit Bits, we are investigating DIY fitness spoofing techniques to allow you to create walking datasets without actually having to share your personal data. These techniques help produce personal data to qualify you for insurance rewards even if you can’t afford a high exercise lifestyle.

Our team of experts are undertaking an in-depth Fitbit Audit to better understand how the Fitbit and other trackers interpret data. With these simple techniques using everyday devices from your home, we show you how to spoof your walking data so that you too can qualify for the best discounts.

Free your fitness. Free yourself. Earn Rewards.”

Now the site’s main purpose seems to be education about data privacy.The solutions are pretty low tech and mechanical. No digital hacking here.

There’s also a good further reading list.

It’s worth having a look to see the bike in “motion.” Wonder if it could get some Strava QOMs while it’s at it? That would definitely count as Strava doping!