Inner Selfie Obsessions
18 December 2014

by tmartin on January 15, 2015

First published in The Cape Cod Times, December 16, 2014

At the end of 2013 – just one short year ago — “selfie” emerged from the tangle of social media techie slang as Oxford Dictionaries’ spotlighted Word-of-the-Year.

Selfie, selfie, selfie. We all know about these self-snapped moments! In the past year it seems everyone from world leaders to first graders embraced the practice. But as we round the corner on 2014, I’m seeing a second trend emerging.

If selfie defined 2013, then we might think of 2014 as the year of the “Inner-Selfie,” the year that we began, en masse, to embrace technology to record and report data about our inner workings.

Market leader Fitbit (“Measure Steps, Calories & Sleep. Starting at $59.95!”) defines a booming product category: fitness trackers.

Unlike those rather tedious gym workout cards that asked us to manually record how many reps of the leg curl we did, these products cheerily automate that task, recording every step, breath, and beat of our day.

Take, for example, Garmin’s, Vivofit (“Follows your progress 24/7!!”). Or Jawbone’s Up (“Advanced sensors capture how you move, sleep and more!”). Not to mention Microsoft’s Band (“Achieve your wellness goals by tracking your heart rate, steps, calorie burn, and sleep quality!”) and Nike’s Fuelband (“A universal way to measure movement for all kinds of activities”).

These and many other competing devices form one slice of the emerging “wearables” market – a whole slew of technology gee-gaws that perch on our wrists, arms, ankles, face, and who knows where else, providing interaction between us and our inner and outer worlds.

IDG reports this market could be worth about $18 Billion (yes, billion with a B) by 2019, selling 100 million or more devices annually. That’s a lot of heart beats and blinks!

Some say this wave of products has changed the world of athletic training. Most of the wearable fitness devices connect wirelessly to various training tools. You can get calendar reminders about meeting your next workout goal or receive a text if you haven’t done a certain level of activity within a defined period of time.

These devices blithely share your steps and pulse and hours of zzzz’s with various fitness communities. After all, nothing drives performance like competition, right? You can also automatically post your daily run to social media sites and generally let the world know the gory details of your body’s functions.

But it doesn’t stop with you! A San Francisco startup has been promoting a wearable watch designed for senior citizen use. The Live!y watch (get it, there’s an exclamation mark as part of the name?) lets you monitor grandma – through a convenient online dashboard, of course. It tracks motion, medication use, number of steps taken per day … so you can feel comfortable that grandma is A-OK.

Or, if you’re more interested in Fido than Gram and Gramps, pick out a wearable solution for your pup — because doggie fitness apps keep popping up all over the park. FitBark lets you track your canine companion’s every move – when he’s active, when he’s sleeping, when’s he’s just hanging out in doggie time. Kickstarter project MyFitDog offers up partner devices, so you and your fur-baby can workout together.

Don’t forget Voyce, which promises doggie monitoring brings “unprecedented” insight into your best buddy’s health and wellbeing, or Whistle which gives you a “window” into your dog’s day, even when he’s off at doggie day care.

Now I know a lot of people who proudly sport Fitbits, who use their Nike device to share athletic achievements, who buy and use fitness devices one after the other, pushing themselves to achieve new levels of performance. I’ve heard stories of people who lost weight once they started tracking the number of steps they took per day and reached the magic 10,000 step threshold.

Yes, without question, self awareness helps us take better care of ourselves. Training feedback clearly benefits the athlete. Monitoring Great Auntie might offer peace of mind. Knowing Spot’s exercise pattern might bond us more closely to our furry friend.

But, when does it all become TMI – Too Much Information?

Everyone jokes about the overexposure of the selfie, but at least the selfie wears an outer skin. The Inner Selfie brings a whole new level of exposure … are we ready for the side effects of that? I get a little frisson of big-brother-watching whenever I start following the logic chain of where this type of monitoring could lead.

But, then again, with the weight loss industry holding steady at about $60 billion a year, no one should be surprised that a techie take on it isn’t far behind. Afterall, few bucks on a Fitbit can sure make us feel like we’ve taken a step toward our New Year’s resolution to get in shape and exercise more. And who knows, with a fitness device triggered text reminder or two, maybe we’ll even follow through!

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