I turn again, steps muffled by the carpet. Did I make it? Yes, thank God, and just in time; it’s 11:56 p.m. I stop. Catch my breath. Trudge upstairs. It’s bedtime. The device on my wrist flashes its congratulations in red, orange, yellow and green. “GOAL”!
This is my life with the Nike+ FuelBand.
It’s a demanding little thing. Mine is “ice” white, one of the newer models. Translucent, so you see its chips and circuits in gold and black, it hugs my left wrist, slips under my sleeve, and hides. Most of the time I forget it’s there. But after dinner, when the baby’s in bed and I want to grab the Kindle next to mine, I press its pale rubber button and await the verdict.
Can I call it a day or what?
After a decade of social, we’re coming back to the personal. And we’ve got help. A new family of sensors is beginning to show us, to the decimal point, what ’til now we could only guess: our own daily behavior. In the rich-and-getting-richer world of personal data, we’re seeing — as self-tracking guru Buster Benson put it to me recently — “the invisible becoming visible.”
Once we can see that data, what will we do with it?
The more freedom users have to answer that question, I think, the more helpful these devices can be.
The FuelBand has surprised me since I first heard about it at last year’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin. I was at the Cheezburger party — always a big Seattle bash — and ran into Brad Nelson, who worked social media for Starbucks at the time. He’d just gotten the brand new FuelBand at Nike’s big API launch that week. And he was psyched.
Yelling so I could hear him over the sounds of the band playing in the background (Cheezburger booked Fun just before they got the number one song that spring), Brad told me about how it tracks all your movement, lets you set daily goals for activity and measures everything in a comprehensive metric called “Fuel.” I blabbed about it so much to my husband Jason that night that he took an Evernote, tagged it “gift idea,” and tucked the FuelBand under the tree months later.
(Brad, by the way, is now global community lead for Nike+ at Nike. So there you go.)
I felt nervous when I put on the FuelBand Christmas Eve. Like I was on the spot. I had a five month old, no abs and a deflated belly that was finally doing what my mom always warned it would — hang out. Waiting for the FuelBand to charge, I looked at the swish on its box. This is Nike. All of Nike’s ads show people sweat. Last March I could pretend to be athletic. Today? I don’t know.
Was the FuelBand destined to live in the back of a dresser drawer somewhere? I didn’t tell Jason, but if this was a try-out, I wasn’t sure I could pass.
Luckily, it wasn’t.
I did go back to the gym after I put on the FuelBand, but only once. I might have thought that a failure before, a reason to free my wrist and feel unworthy. But while I thought the FuelBand was training me, I was training it. I’d been so sure it would come equipped with expectations. But it was smarter than that. Unlike so much in the fitness industry, it didn’t tell me what to do.
What I have done, then, is subtle. And it’s good. I set my goal to a humble 2,500 Fuel points. Good enough not to lose weight or even stay fit, but to make sure I don’t sit around in front of a computer all day. I may not have time for the gym. But I have time to jog in place for a minute or two while I watch the new season of “Downton Abbey” in my nightgown. It’s funny. For something that’s watching, the band is blind where it counts. A jog is a jog, it turns out. Not show-and-tell. What’s good enough for me is good enough for the FuelBand.
Nike+ has a way to set bigger challenges beyond daily goals. That’s what I hear, anyway. I haven’t tried them. I haven’t seen them. They’re not in my face. I used to think that was a design flaw. Now I know better.
When I want to raise my goal to something I can’t put away by dancing to the Lion King soundtrack with the baby, I’ll do it. On my time. On my initiative.
Track all you want. That’s what’s going to count.
Mónica Guzmán is a community strategist, freelance journalist and award-winning digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away at @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See a list of her clients on her website. Also see this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.