Fitbit Flex – The Body’s Black Box Recorder

At the recent CES in Las Vegas, “wearables” was the category on everyone’s tongue, and it will be very interested to see how this category develops, and what it’s really going to mean in terms of changing our lifestyles and habits.

Being a runner, I’ve been using so called wearables for a long time now. In fact I had one of the original Polar heart rate monitor watches that had a pod that went on your foot to measure your movement. Now it’s a Garmin GPS watch with heart monitor.

The thing with these performance wearables is that they are not really permanent fixtures – you put them on when you need them and take them off when you’re not doing strenuous activity. The rise of the so called activity tracker is something quite different – unobtrusive and ever present.

I got myself a Fitbit Flex to primarily track my sleep patterns, as I feel like I’m quite a restless sleeper. Because it measures movement, it can provide some really good data on the period that you would be most unaware, that is, sleep time. As it turns out, I sleep for around 6 hours and toss and turn around 10 times a night (that needs to improve).

Because there’s no actual GPS built into the wristband, it approximates the amount of steps, distance and calories by measuring your movement.  It provides a really good baseline for your daily habits, which leads to this sort of “gamification” of my waking life.

I’ll look at the Fitbit app once in the morning and then again in the early afternoon to see where I’m at. You can also just double tap the band to get a basic progression bar. If I feel like I haven’t walked enough steps to make the day’s quota, I’ll consciously move around more or stop putting off that run around the local streets and get out there.

While I was running, the wristband vibrated, which means that I’d completed the day’s goal, and that is a strangely satisfying moment – like finishing the next level of whatever game you’re currently into.

I actually like this idea of being able to constantly tap into this constant telemetry feed of myself. I feel like it’s comparable to the black box recorder on planes. For example, if something did happen to me, I fell ill or collapsed (knock on wood!), medics or family could synch my Fitbit to see how the last few days were for me. Was I over exercising, was I having adequate sleep, were my activity levels very different to the norm? These things would normally not be able to be quantified to any accurate level, but this data could be passed on to a medical team.

The Fitbit Flex works for me because it’s on me all the time and serves a practical purpose for motivation and information; doesn’t require daily charging so there’s no battery anxiety; and is small and light enough that it doesn’t really register. And that’s probably the test of a good wearable.

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