Be Your Own Big Brother

December 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

Call it Web-based personal fitness, or maybe Vanity 2.0: In January 2009, a Silicon Valley start-up called Fitbit will release a wireless system that allows people to track and monitor intimate physical information about themselves and then upload that info to a publicly viewable Web site. The system consists of a hair-clip sized wearable device, the Fitbit Tracker, which monitors its owner’s steps, exercise levels, calories, and sleep patterns.

“The Tracker uses motion-sensing technology to precisely capture all moment-to-moment physical activity throughout the day and night. It also measures sleep quality to provide a holistic view of a 24- hour period,” according to a statement.

At the click of a button, calories, steps, and distance are illuminated and displayed on the Tracker. “In addition to these numerical measurements, the Tracker also displays a user’s progress toward [his or her] goals in the form of an avatar that changes as a user advances toward or falls behind [his or her] goals,” reads the statement. The biggest difference between the Fitbit and a standard pedometer is that the Fitbit allows people to track their own fitness progress online with friends, family, and coworkers, or even strangers. Users can also input nutrition, weight, and other data onto the Web site to gain a “compelte picture of their health.”

The device itself is little more than a 2.4 GHz radio-frequency identification tag, similar to the tags found on store merchandise to prevent stealing. Instead of sending digital data to a security system in a store, the device simply transmits the data wirelessly to a web of receivers or base stations without the user having to lift an extremely fit finger.

“We know that direct action to upload data to a site can turn into a chore,” says Fitbit chief technical officer Eric Friedman.

A machine that watches its owner may ring of Orwell, but many techwatchers, such as Tim O’Reilly, forecast that the most interesting computer applications in the years ahead will involve sensors. Industry experts forecast more sensing devices to hit the market in the next decade.

The Fitbit’s makers are also optimistic that people will use the knowledge gleaned from the device to make healthier choices. Says Friedman, “We feel that anything we can do to get people to live healthier helps the world be a better place.”

– Patrick Tucker


The Fitbit Tracker, available for sale in January 2009, is a clip device that can be attached to clothes to sense and monitor its wearer’s exercise and sleep patterns. The device then automatically uploads that material to a Web site.


Source: Fitbit,, personal interviews.

Originally published in THE FUTURIST, January-February, 2009.


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