My Electronic Overlord

I really am a simple soul.

In December I was given a Fitbit for my birthday. I love it. I may, in fact, have gone a little off the deep end about it. It’s a little bit like a tamagotchi (remember those?) except about exercise: it requires attention and gives you just enough approving feedback to keep you giving it that attention. This is how our E-Overlords are going to take over: by making us want to please them so we get tiny gratifications.

The new exercise standards, as I understand them, suggest that we should all be putting in 10,000 steps a day. And on most days (particularly on work days when I commute downtown and spend all day running around a museum) this is not difficult. But my Fitbit also monitors how active I am during the day, how well I sleep, how much water I’m drinking (useful, since I am consistently under-hydrated) and what my calorie burn is. I’m not the sort of person who obsesses about any of these things except, perhaps, the steps. I’m not getting any younger, and I’d like to arrive at Old Age with some semblance of my health intact.

I let my Fitbit report to me about my sleep (about 7 hours a night, not including the awake/restless periods which the Fitbit somehow knows about). Every time I meet a goal–whether it’s the one that is programmed into the software, or one I’ve added–I get a visual confirmation. Like what? The “you should do 15+ minutes of actual exercise five times a week” pentagon gets another green bar. Circles that represent how many minutes you’ve been active all day, or how many calories you’ve burned, or how many miles you’ve clocked, turn green. And when you meet the 10,000 step goal, the Big Circle goes green and the actual Fitbit unit on your wrist has a little dance party, with multicolored lights flashing for a minute. And on those occasions when you hit the 10k goal and the active minutes goal and the calories burned goal and the miles clocked goal, the whole upper part of the screen flashes green at you and there’s a cascade of stars.

I am a simple soul, as I said. As dumb as it sounds, this pleases me inordinately. I find myself trying to walk a little longer, or move a little more on an hourly basis. My Fitbit gets me on the elliptical when nothing else will, because I live for turning that pentagon green. I know how silly this is, and yet… it works.

I choose to consider this a force for good. Whether it will be a long-term force for good, I don’t know. But for now it’s working.



About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


My Electronic Overlord — 6 Comments

  1. I read an article yesterday about using A.I. to monitor older people – with an emphasis on privacy. I hadn’t thought of that emphasis as we are adding electronic monitors that can call for help when we fall, and which will eventually track all of our health needs.

    And I see that Fitbits and Apple Watches and such have programs to compare your results with friends. But I also see the advantage for some people in *not* sharing the results with others, but still having our programs sharing our progress with ourselves. We still are reminded, but sometimes we want privacy.

    • Whenever my Fitbit encourages me to compare/compete with friends, my answer is “Hell, nah.” I am having fun competing with myself, but competing with others is too much like gym class for me, and I suspect it would dis-incentivize exercise for me. But I am a delicate flower.

      My aunt has a “fallen and can’t get up” monitor, and every now and then it will mis-read a cue, and a disembodied voice will suddenly ask if she’s OK. On the one hand it’s comforting to know, when she’s home and alone, that my 93-year-old aunt is not without a way to reach out. On the other hand…I can’t think of another way to handle this–if you think someone is in trouble you have to ask. But it’s still deeply disconcerting.

  2. I am also very fond of my Fitbit, which has motivated me to get those 10,000 steps daily for about four years now. I also aim for sixty active minutes a day and have it set to buzz me when I don’t move at least 250 steps in an hour (though I don’t always act on that). And I know what you mean about enjoying the little celebrations.

    That said, I wish the people who made things like this would simply provide software for keeping private records, instead of doing all this through their site online. And the idea of “competing” with others on steps gives me the heebie-jeebies. We’re over-obsessed with competition in this society as it is.

    • Heebie jeebies just about says it, Nancy. I’ve been using the “you haven’t walked enough” activity monitor as a way to remind myself to get more water: at work this means going downstairs to the kitchen, and pacing around while the microwave heats it up (it’s cold in my workplace, and hot water is a thermal boost), and going back upstairs generally =250 steps.

  3. I have an off-brand fitbit that I love. It doesn’t do quite as much, just the step counting and reminding me when I have been too inactive. But it doesn’t require me to have a smartphone to use it, and I can just compete with myself.

  4. A retired physician I know told me she uses her fitbit for her personal sleep study, as it saves thousands of dollars and gives her more authentic results.