Fitness data trackers still need to incentivize

Though I haven’t intentionally kept up with the news from the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it surprised me to see how many companies are jumping on the bandwagon with their own versions of the now-mainstream fitness tracker. These devices are designed to give the user various metrics about their activity levels. From stairs climbed to steps walked, and even how well the user slept, the trackers provide easy access to many personal metrics some see as key to building a “fit” daily routine. Given the publicity of these trackers, it is more than obvious tech companies are banking on consumers wanting more of these devices.

I love data. I especially love data over time, and these trackers give me that info. I’ve used a Fitbit One for almost a year and this aspect appeals to me personally. I like the idea of some piece of technology that tracks my movements throughout my day, and I’m much more likely to make the decision to walk across campus rather than drive when I have feedback from what I’ve done and have a goal I’m working toward. The million-dollar question, though, is whether access to this data will actually help users, like myself, overwhelmingly improve their general health.

My guess is no.

I’m under the belief data is powerful, and these trackers provide data. However, will I change my behaviors because I have this information at my disposal? Or will I continue to make my excuses and live in denial-fueled bliss about my exercise habits in spite of it?

“…it is more than obvious tech companies are banking on consumers wanting more of these devices.”

In my experience, having the data only drastically changed my behaviors when I was on the cusp of some “achievement” recognized by Fitbit’s online account system. One achievement (climb 75 floors or 750 feet in a single day), for example, had me climbing the stairs in my apartment building just to get the last few floors. Most days, though, I would simply go through my routine without actively changing how I moved around campus. Even so, I get my activity graphs that warm my little industrial engineering heart.

With the sleep data, in particular, I still haven’t been able to change when I decided to get my sleep. My records indicate a massive sleep debt I’ve accrued, but I’m not changing my behavior to improve this metric of my general fitness.

This indicates to me that in order to successful change users’ habits, simply having the data isn’t enough; proper incentives will prove key in the application of trackers like the Fitbit One.

“…proper incentives will prove key in the applications of trackers like the Fitbit One.”

All in all, the tracker itself isn’t the silver bullet to physical fitness. Some will leverage the technology and incorporate the feedback they receive into whatever daily routine they have decided to follow.

For the rest, we’ll get our sleep charts, activity graphs and relegate the fitness tracker to a “neat” gadget we ultimately use because we like data, not to improve our health.