Welcome to the Fitbit family, where canoodling with your gadget is the norm

I got a Fitbit for Christmas. I would have been happier to receive the Aussie flu

For those unfamiliar with Fitbit, it is a little like those electronic tags criminals have strapped to their ankles, their every move monitored. Only this one is a fitness-tracking device, whereas a criminal can sit on his couch all day and no one will judge him. Photograph: Getty Images

For those unfamiliar with Fitbit, it is a little like those electronic tags criminals have strapped to their ankles, their every move monitored. Only this one is a fitness-tracking device, whereas a criminal can sit on his couch all day and no one will judge him. Photograph: Getty Images

 

All you could hope was that Santa somehow got impaled on Rudolph’s antlers when he was climbing back in to his sleigh. The big heap of lard’s only duty in life is to bring joy at Christmas time, not inflict woe. When you ask for a surprise, you mean a good one.

And the prettily wrapped box looked so full of promise. It was too small to be a Mini Cooper Convertible. Or the iMac Pro. Although there was always the chance it was a €5,599 gift card so that you could buy it yourself. It wasn’t the right shape for a selection box, nor wellie socks, and it was silent so it wasn’t a parrot.

Half the fun is in the guessing, of course, but the time had come to rip off the wrapping and prepare to be thrilled.

You sat and stared for a while, kind of like you did at your maths grade when your Inter results came out.

A Fitbit. An actual Fitbit.

You’d have been happier to receive the Aussie flu.

Five days later, a text from the person who put the surprising idea in Santa’s head and who will, next Christmas, receive a talking weighing scales as their gift. A scales that will say “one at a time please” every time they step on.

“Do u like it?” “Oh yes, it’s terrific, just what I always wanted.” “How many steps have u taken 2day?” “Sorry, have 2 go, someone @ door.”

Fighting monsters

So you take it out of its box. And you just know life will never be the same.

Most of us have at least three dozen people in our lives who’ve been using these things for years, our eyes glazing over whenever they’d start talking about how many steps they’d taken that day, or the number of floors they’d climbed. “Wow,” you’d lie. “Is your lift broken?” And it reached a point where if you saw the gadget on someone’s wrist at a social occasion, you’d sidle over to the other side of the room to avoid having to talk to them.

And now that you own one too, you realise Freddy Nietzsche saw them coming: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster . . . for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

And now that you spend two-thirds of your day staring at your Fitbit, which spends its entire day gazing into you, you know precisely what he meant by the abyss.

For those unfamiliar with these gadgets, they’re a little like those electronic tags criminals have strapped to their ankles, their every move monitored. Only this one is a fitness-tracking device, whereas a criminal can sit on his couch all day and no one will judge him. In fact, the prison service would prefer if he sat on his couch all day. But the Fitbit most certainly judges you. Relentlessly.

Not overtly, you’ll never get a notification telling you you’re a shiftless loser, but you sense its disappointment in you when it offers gentle reminders that you haven’t moved from in front of the telly for four hours. A little man pops up on the screen and begs you to “take me for a walk”, even if Derry Girls is about to start and it’s -2 outside.

Sometimes the messages are aggressive, bordering on harassment. Like, “You Go Girl!”, to which you respond, “I’ll go when I’m ready, dog breath”. On the Fitbit community forum, which has now become family, a fella reported that his told him to “Get Moving!” when he’d already done 20,000 steps that day. “I told it to piss off.”

It was similar this morning. After bringing the bin in, it said, “Wanna Stroll?” And you’re like, “I JUST BROUGHT THE BIN IN, WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?”

Inappropriate messages

Others on the forum have reported “inappropriate” messages, like “Smooches!”, “Love Ya!’ or “Hold Me” just as they get into bed. “That’s a little bit creepy,” said one lady, but another admitted that when hers says “Smooches!”, “I hug and kiss it”. This is the family you have now become part of, people who talk to and canoodle with a gadget on their wrist.

And their entire emotional well-being is determined by whether or not they’ve made their Fitbit proud of them. Like the day this popped up: “Congrats on earning your first Happy Hill badge!” It was for climbing 10 floors (the lift was broken). If you lived forever, you’d never feel the same sense of pride that enveloped you on winning that Happy Hill badge.

Winning a Challenge is a whole other matter. There are lots of them, like the Workweek Hustle when you pit yourself against others to see who has the most steps between Monday and Friday. You invite friends to challenge you, so obviously you choose someone like Bob from Arizona who’s just had his hip replaced, but the problem is they can invite their own friends who could be anyone from N’Golo Kanté to Sonia O’Sullivan.

All you can do then is improvise. If, purely hypothetically, you googled “how to cheat your Fitbit”, you’d get suggestions like attaching it to your dog’s collar before he chases a squirrel, taping it to your hamster’s wheel, putting it in the tumble dryer or using a rocking chair to watch telly. The rocking chair one works great, you cover more ground while watching Celebrity Big Brother than N’Golo does in a season.

You’ll get some on the forum who suggest this is cheating – which, of course, it’s not. You’re simply augmenting your stepping efforts through inventiveness, an option that’s open to everyone if they’re imaginative enough. That’s competing, not cheating. And Fitbit is all about conquering challenges, there are no badges for losers. No smooches either.

Sometimes, though, actual steps are unavoidable. For example, Fitbit tells you to drink so much water in a day that if your toilet is upstairs you’re climbing the equivalent of Kilimanjaro every 24 hours. It also tells you in the morning that you walked quite a distance in your sleep, which is either a glitch or you’re now even dreaming about steps.

The biggest thrill is when you are, say, just 16 steps away from reaching your 10,000 target, so you get off the rocking chair and jog around the coffee table until fireworks and congratulations fill your screen. You’ll get some funny looks from the dog, but it’s a small price to pay.

There is, of course, the option to let the battery run out if you want to get your old life back and not be bullied in to unceasing activity. (In fairness, it has a “Relax” feature which allows you to chill . . . for a maximum of five minutes. No, seriously). But as the most common Fitbit meme puts it, if you forget to recharge it there’s no point even getting out of bed – you’re damned if a single step you take is not going to be counted.

And that’s how it takes over your life. And you have a sinking feeling you’ll never retrieve it. You wouldn’t mind so much if you chose it, then you’d only have yourself to blame, but it was a surprise.

“Wanna Stroll?”

Have to go.

“Hold Me!”

Don’t push it, pal.

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