Step by Step: On Loving and Leaving the Fitbit

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I asked for a Fitbit for my birthday because if that isn’t the time of year to punish myself for the crime of still being alive, then I don’t know what is. But also, I didn’t really think of the Fitbit as a punishment. Rather, I thought of it as the easiest way to reward myself for how active I’d become of late. I’d run my first half-marathon! I got out of the subway on my way to work a whole stop earlier! I took ballet barre classes! I wanted some sort of recording of it all, something to which I could point and use to reassure myself that I was making progress of some sort, because what is life if not progress? (If you can’t tell by now that my thinking had become maybe slightly disturbed and verging on obsessive, then, congratulations, you probably are also a member of the cult of the Fitbit.)

But first, some background: I am not the kind of person who is generally interested in the latest technological advancements of any sort, let alone the wearable kind. I have a two-year-old iPhone, with an embarrassingly small number of apps, and had only recently even found out that one of them was related to health. But once I found out what that app was for, it was only a couple of weeks before I decided that I needed something better to track my steps. Because within the short period of time between when I discovered the app and began to compulsively tap on my home-screen heart approximately once every ten minutes and when I asked for a Fitbit, I’d gotten immoderately annoyed with my phone’s limitations. I’m not the kind of person who carries my phone with me to, like, the bathroom, so how could it possibly know how many steps I was taking in a day? And what about when it was charging? Which it needs to do a lot because it is, as I mentioned, very old! What then? I quickly figured out that in order to get anything approaching an accurate reading of how many steps I was taking, I’d need to have something that I could keep on my body at all times, without even thinking about it.

So I asked for a Fitbit. And because I have a great brother, I got what I asked for. And, also, in a curse-of-the-monkey’s-paw, totally expected kind of a way, I also got so much more. From the moment I snapped the black rubber band into place around my wrist, I was hooked. I would go out of my way to take extra trips to the recycling bins outside my apartment, deliberately carrying paper and plastic separately so as to get the extra 75 steps. Which was another part of it: I knew that it took 75 steps to go back and forth between my kitchen and the recycling bins. I also knew that it took 430 steps to get to one subway entrance, but 720 to get to the other, so I’d walk to the one that was farther away. I suddenly knew these calculations for sure, and so I followed them with a zealotry that I’d never allowed myself when it came to other body-focused mathematics, like calorie counting or the ups-and-downs of the numbers on a scale.

Herein lies one of the secret appeals of the Fitbit, particularly for women. Whereas other forms of weight-tracking—particularly if the woman in question is in what our society would deem “good shape”— like dieting are usually frowned upon as topics of public conversation because they seem to involve too much effort (never an appealing trait in a woman), the results of a Fitbit are meant to be shouted out to as many people as possible via Facebook and other forms of social sharing. You’re allowed—encouraged, even!—to be proud of the mindless obsession with which you track every single movement you make on a daily basis. What a world.

And I did try to track every movement. I would diligently enter every hour of every exercise class I took, every time I biked to work, every minute I spent swimming. I even tracked the movements I didn’t make; I made note of each night of sleep. I felt in control of each minute of each hour of each day. At first it felt great! Knowledge is power and I suddenly had more knowledge than ever and so my power was, like, similarly off the charts, right? Well, no. Not at all. It didn’t take long—just over three months—for me to realize that I still had no power, and that all my new knowledge was doing was driving me crazy (slowly, and then all at once, not unlike falling in love) because it allowed me to indulge in my worst, obsessive tendencies (not unlike falling in love!). This was never more clear than on the day I spent pushing my nephew in his stroller on a gorgeous early autumn afternoon. We walked four miles, not one step of which was recorded by my Fitbit because my wrist remained static on the stroller’s handle. When I realized this, I felt such real despair that I then went on another four-mile walk, just to have some semblance of a “good day.”

That was my wearable tech rock bottom. The profound sense of loss I felt after realizing my steps had gone unrecorded was a wake-up call. The newly undeniable truth was that my reliance on wearable tech had so warped my sense of reality that “reality” was only what existed on the screen. My life had become a perversion of a zen koan: If a foot falls on the ground without an accompanying arm swing, was a step really taken? It had to stop. And so I stopped it. I took off my Fitbit that very night. It was then that I noticed the dime-sized patch of raised, red skin it had left on the inside of my wrist. And I knew I’d done the right thing. Because, you know, feeling good doesn’t usually result in a rash. Or, at least, it shouldn’t.

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