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Digital Savant

Posted: 12:53 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014

Column: wearable tech or digital data handcuffs? 

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GALLAGA: Are wristband trackers data handcuffs or handy helpers?
Richard Drew
Four fitness trackers are shown in this photograph. They are, from left, Fitbit Force, Jawbone Up, Fitbug Orb and the Nike FuelBand SE. While these trackers have been selling well, another wave of like products were rolled out at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. Richard Drew / Associated Press

By Omar L. Gallaga

This week's Digital Savant column is about fitness trackers, especially digital wristbands, which have come into the mainstream and were dominant at last week's Consumer Electronics Show

I bought a Fitbit Force earlier this month and I'm still learning to live with a device that lives on my body almost 24 hours a day. I love it, but in some ways I also resent the feeling of being tethered to something that's always watching me.  My mixed emotions, I hope, come through in the column, which explores my ambivalence about always-on data collecting. 

Some other Fitbit Force notes that aren't in the column:

  • One of the reasons I bought a Fitbit as opposed to, say, a Nike FuelBand+ is the sleep tracking. But I'm awful at turning it off and on. The Fitbit doesn't detect you sleeping automatically, you have to let it know when to start tracking and when to stop. Starting is no problem, but I wake up so groggy that I always forget to turn it off. It thinks I'm taking three or four hour naps. If only. [Update: a reader tells me you can manually adjust the sleep time data. Thanks, Sarah!]
  • A reader this morning Tweeted me this horrifying article from HuffPo about rashes caused by devices like mine. I imagine the same thing happens to some people with watches and that if you're prone to skin irritation, these kinds of devices may not work for you; you may want to consider something that clips onto your clothing instead.
  • I had a lot of trouble setting my Fitbit up inititally. It seemed like it didn't want to sync with my phone properly and kept displaying the wrong time. I did a complete reset of it and it's been working ever since. I didn't even lose any data as some of that had already transfered to my phone.

Thoughts? Post them in the comments. 

The column is subscriber-only, but you can get a 99-cent day pass and enjoy this and other Digital Savant columns.

Omar L. Gallaga

About Omar L. Gallaga

Omar L. Gallaga writes about technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. He was a technology correspondent for NPR's "All Things Considered," helping originate the All Tech Considered segment and blog.

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