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The real question about wearable tech

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A special kind of heartache is reserved for those of us who, after having searched high and low for our FitBits, find our tiny fitness trackers lifeless, still attached to clean, dried and neatly folded clothes from last week’s workout. At $100 a pop, realizing that you’ve drowned your tech amounts to no small dent in your day.

“Putting your wearable tech through the wringer” isn’t meant to be taken literally, but judging by the FitBit forums I’ve visited, washing-machine accidents seem to be the leading cause of death of the small-but-expensive activity monitors. I’m personally on my 2nd FitBit because of this not-so-clear and present danger. So far, “don’t leave your fitbit clipped to your clothes” isn’t a lesson I’ve had to learn twice. But I have to say, that first FitBit fail makes me less inclined to use my new tracker at all. I used to wear my FitBit 24/7 (yes, it monitors sleep activity), but now I wear it so infrequently that it sits power-drained for days and must charge for a few hours before I can use it. (This usually means I don’t wear it for that workout). Since yoga and pilates (which won’t exactly register with the Fitbit) have taken over my fitness schedule, I’ve almost abandoned tracking entirely.

Tech for Truth

My behavioral habit of wearing a fitness tracker was derailed by a technological limitation (lack of waterproofing). As the tech evolves, these tech glitches will be smoothed over. My guess is we’ll eventually move to implants. Why rely on fallible, washing-machine wielding humans to attach and detach the tech? Humans forget things. They lie to themselves. They cheat on their diets. Let’s just implant the trackers and be done with it. After all, implants are the natural evolution. For example, other “wearable tech” like glasses and masks have been replaced by contacts and cosmetics.

So the question isn’t really about wearable tech; the question is about tracking tech. The trackers can be on/in our body, on our phones, or installed in orbital satellites; it still doesn’t answer the question of what good tracking our behavior does us and what havoc it wreaks. Despite the chatter about NSA spying on its own law-abiding citizens, Amazon drones, or Big Data, we have yet to begin this conversation about monitoring personal and identifying behavioral information.

Some pundits are concerned that diet and fitness trackers will be abused by those who tend toward eating disorders. Individual abuses by anorexics and bulimics won’t threaten society as much as governments or crime syndicates would. They might know how best to poison you, or more likely, steal your money.

Of course that’s alarmist. Widespread criminal invasions that ruin our lives en masse isn’t likely. What is a more serious threat? Widespread en masse invasion of our privacy, like the recent spying done by the NSA. So far, only the government is tracking and listening in on our communications. Most probably, in almost 100% of the cases, the NSA spying won’t preclude us from getting a job or the ability to rent an apartment, etc. Privacy, then, is still mostly in tact. We can still apply for jobs outside our fields. We can still decide to move across the country and start anew. These are the types of things privacy allows. When our movements are tracked, even if we are voluntarily tracking ourselves, we get tracked in a different sense. Like a train on rails, we will be assigned to a role Big Brother Data won’t allow us to forget.

A Hugh Grant & Jennifer Aniston Life

In Hollywood, they call this typecasting. Typecast actors face tremendous difficulty securing roles (i.e. work) that plays outside the narrow field of the role they’re known for (Hugh Grant: Bumbling British Guy; Aniston: Hopeless, Usually Just-Jilted Romantic). But this kind of social pressure happens at every level of society. We all have our typecasted experiences. Anyone who went to a small school knows what it is like to be forever branded for some action in her youth, e.g., after throwing up in-tact peach slices in 2nd grade, I was teased about chewing them completely until the day I graduated high school.

On a more serious note, widows or mothers of deceased children struggle daily with being typecast. These women don’t want to disrespect the memory of their loved ones, but at the same time they fear being forever seen and treated as tragic figures once they let strangers know about their loss. In fact, it is common for parents of lost children to divorce and/or move away from that town. They make major life changes to avoid others’ typecasting of them. A lack of privacy practically guarantees we will all be pigeon-holed, perhaps permanently, in some way. Feeling trapped in a role, unable to start over, unable to breathe new life into the future, is the result of lack of privacy. When you want to branch out, your data and other people’s opinions of your data will pull you right back down.

Privacy=The Ability to Start Over

The pursuit of happiness is rooted in privacy. We need to be careful of how much of us we share. Personal data is a tattoo – a permanent message, an eternal reminder, an imagination’s limit. Just as people judge you by your appearance, they will pigeon-hole you based on your data. You will be stuck in old roles and expectations. Be careful what you track, and be extra careful in what you share. Someday you may want to wear a different mask.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mike_S_Htown 5 January 2014, 12:19 pm

    I just assume that the only activity I get that matters is my daily 5K on the treadmill! I know the part of my day I spent in front of my computer doesn’t add much… 🙂

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