Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »


The top graph shows a typical workday as recorded by the Fitbit, while the bottom graph shows a weekend day spent hiking.

The Fitbit is often described as a souped-up pedometer, though its makers chafe at that description. Like pedometers, the thumb-size device, which is worn on the belt or bra strap, has an embedded accelerometer that measures movement. But while the device records the number of steps you’ve taken and miles walked that day, onboard algorithms calculate the number of calories burned, all of which are reported on a sleek little display.

Pressing a button puts the device in sleep-monitoring mode; you wear it in a wrist strap while sleeping, and data from the accelerometer gives a rough measure of when you fall asleep, when you wake up, and how restless you were during the night.

The best feature for a lazy self-tracker like me is that anytime you’re near your computer, the device automatically sends information to an online dashboard, which displays your activity level—“sedentary,” “low,” “moderate,” or “highly active”—in five-minute increments.

The device’s small display also has a flower that grows taller when you’re active and shrinks to a stub when you’re not. My reaction to the flower is a testament to how motivating simple feedback can be; seeing a stubby flower after a long meeting makes we want to go for a brisk walk around the block (1,500 steps).

I am already an active person–I work out five days a week, hike almost every weekend, and usually walk or bike to work—so I didn’t think I needed much motivation to be more active. (According to Fitbit, I am in the top 2 percent activity-wise for women my age who use the device.) But the Fitbit made me conscious of all the times I am not moving.

Not surprisingly, the worst culprit is work. The bulk of my weekday is a sad gray line, flanked by blue (low activity) and yellow (moderatey activity) spikes signifying my ride to work and walk to lunch. On the other hand, my time at home in the evenings, which I would describe as fairly sedentary stretches of eating dinner, watching TV, and working on the computer, are nearly continuous blue bars with bolts of yellow.

Given recent reports that sitting is detrimental to your health, my sedentary workdays are worrisome to me. They also highlight a contradiction in workplace wellness; a number of large employers and insurers are providing employees with Fitbits or similar programs to encourage activity. But what they really need to do is figure out how to make the typical office workplace less sedentary. (Unfortunately for me, a half-joking request to TR for a treadmill desk a couple of years ago was resolutely squashed.)


1 comment. Share your thoughts »

Tagged: Biomedicine, The Measured Life, self-tracking, fitbit

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me