From guilt to relief: the emotional impact of giving up activity tracking

personal tracking guilt study best outdoor fitness bands fitbit blaze
Personal tracking devices like Fitbits are meant to improve our lives, so why is the overwhelming emotion they provoke a sense of guilt and self-loathing when we stop wearing them and place them to one side?

That’s one of the questions researchers at the University of Washington grappled with in a recent study looking at the reason users abandon personal tracking tools — and how to get people back to using them again.

“We heard from a lot of people who said that they planned on coming back to self-tracking, but felt guilty about the fact that their activity was too low, and would rather wait until they’re doing a bit more exercise,” Daniel Epstein, a UW doctoral student in computer science and engineering, told Digital Trends. “It’s a very common response. We expected that, but perhaps not for it be quite as prevalent as it was. A lot of people really feel a sense of discomfort at the data that’s revealed, or the burden of having to wear a device every day. When they abandon it sometimes they feel a lot better.”

In a paper due to be presented next week at the Association for Computing Machinery’s International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing, the University of Washington researchers surveyed 141 people who had started — and then stopped — using a Fitbit. The goal was to find ways of presenting previously collected data to see if it could prompt users to return to tracking.

Around half of the lapsed users reported a sense of guilt over abandoning their wearable, and said they would value returning to tracking. About one seventh of the former Fitbitters — 21 to be exact — concluded that they had gotten no value out of their wearable device and struggled to see how the data could lead to a change in behavior. A mere 5 study participants said they’d learned as much as they needed to know about their fitness habits, while the remaining 45 told researchers they had mixed feelings about it.

The researchers then experimented with different visualizations and ways of framing the data to find out how people best respond to calls to return to tracking — while observing that some techniques, like pushed recommendations, were popular among some users, but were viewed very negatively among others.

In all, it’s a reminder of the fact that a device as deeply personal as a fitness tracker also needs to personalize the way it encourages you back into the fold.

“One method is promoting engagement a little bit more — particularly since many people do feel really guilty about [abandoning their devices] and really want to come back to tracking,” Epstein said. “Also, for people who abandoned it because they found it to be burdensome, you can show them days they were particularly active or some positive effect to reinforce the fact that it was worthwhile. I think those two things will go a long way to promoting engagement and a positive sense of the experience.”

Wearables

Lack of regulation means wearables aren’t held accountable for health claims

As fitness trackers become more like health monitors, some physicians are concerned they can lead to over-diagnosis of non-existent problems. It’s already happening with wearable baby monitors.
Health & Fitness

In search of the fountain of youth, beauty companies turn to tech

Beauty tech is a fairly new concept, but at CES 2019, companies such as Olay, L’Oreal, and Neutrogena were fully embracing it with all kinds of gadgets that promise to give you glowing skin.
Mobile

Rekindled yet again, Nokia’s next-gen phones offer more than just nostalgia

HMD Global, a startup that designs and builds Nokia Android smartphones, wants to put the Nokia brand name back “where it belongs.” It helps that it’s made up of ex-Nokia employees. We go behind the scenes to see how HMD formed.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and Kittyhawk.io could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.
Cars

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.