bill watanabeBy BILL WATANABE

My family bought me a new device called Fitbit for Christmas last year. I didn’t know what it was but my technologically savvy daughter said it was like a super-duper pedometer to help track my daily activity level. I said, “Thanks, thanks” and sort of feigned excitement but was skeptical of whether it would be very effective or useful.

A few years ago I used a pedometer one time when I did my morning walk around Silverlake and it was totally wrong on my step count (admittedly it was a freebie and thus not high-quality) so I threw it away. I pessimistically assumed it was more of the same and that this new device would not work well either.

(Full disclosure — I do not own stock in this company, as far as I know.)

The Fitbit is pretty compact, about the size of a thumb-drive memory stick and easy (at least for guys) to carry around in my pocket. Out of obligation to my family’s generous gift (it costs about $100), I forced myself to give it a fair trial and started carrying it with me all day, every day.

The device wirelessly ties into my computer, so every night before I go to bed, while checking my emails, it sends me encouraging messages on how well I did in certain categories such as step count, or stair-climbing, number of miles walked or minutes of “high activity.” It also counts calories expended, although I have no idea how they calculate that.

On the days I do my walk around Silverlake (three times per week at 2.5 miles), I now get a very accurate count of the number of steps I took, so on those days I get Fitbit accolades on my computer! On the days I don’t do my lake-walk, my daily total is usually significantly less and so no accolades are forthcoming — just a chart telling me I fell short of the recommended goal of 10,000 steps per day.

Since I live in a multi-level townhouse, my stair-climbing count is always very good; the Fitbit even told me after a while that I had achieved a “hot-air balloon level of elevation”! That, for some reason, made me feel really good — as though I had accomplished something major. What I thought might be just another useless gadget was getting into my head!

One day, I was riding the bus from home to Little Tokyo. The thought occurred to me that if I got off the bus one stop sooner, I could increase my step count for the day — and so that is what I did. As I was happily walking towards Little Tokyo, I checked my pocket and suddenly realized I did not have my Fitbit — I had forgotten it at home!

My happiness instantly turned into anger. I became furious at myself, cursing under my breath at my stupidity as I realized I was taking all these steps and it wasn’t even being counted! And then it hit me — I was missing the whole point, which was to improve my fitness by increasing my exercise level — which is precisely what I was doing, regardless of the fact my device wasn’t with me! The device was beginning to take control!

The Fitbit program also allows you to form groups and to “challenge” one another’s performance. My daughter is my main challenger, although my Silverlake walks have kept me ahead of her daily scores. But the other day, she racked up 15,000 steps and walloped me; I texted her to ask how she got so many steps and she told me “going to Disneyland will do it” and I could almost hear her sneering in her reply text.

Instead of being happy for her and her day of fitness, I was plotting on how to beat her in the future. She told me her device has a faulty battery so she won’t have it for a while until they replace it. I began to have evil thoughts — that I could really rack up my step count during the time she doesn’t have her Fitbit! Or maybe she will sprain her ankle — wha ha ha!

Once again, I realized I was missing the point — that I should be encouraging my daughter and her fitness regimen. The Fitbit had totally gotten into my head and was even giving me evil thoughts, and I had to straighten myself out to keep it a positive motivator.

I have learned now to keep the thing in perspective — which is that everyone in my Fitbit group should be moving towards greater fitness and health. And if we are all helping each other improve our performance, then everyone wins — and in life, when everyone wins, that is pretty good!

Bill Watanabe writes from Silverlake near downtown Los Angeles and can be contacted at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



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