Sometimes, in a toxic relationship, it’s the guilt and the hope of the situation improving that keeps you from quitting. But Samera Khan had had enough. After five months, she decided to give up her smart wearable device that she had bought a year earlier in the hope that it would encourage her to be more active. “For two months, I was a maniac trying to achieve the targets. Soon, instead of focusing on exercise, I was fixated on the numbers displayed by the device," recalls the Mumbai-based co-founder of design studio 2point5.

While Khan, 41, felt she was chasing numbers, Shardul Srivastava, international sales coordinator at manufacturing firm Conquest Medtech, stopped wearing his fitness tracker after using it for nearly a year. He felt the device wasn’t useful for people interested in an advanced level of fitness. Yet, Srivastava, 33, who has competed in professional bodybuilding shows, has started wearing it again, as an accessory. “It’s has a bright orange band and looks good. I don’t check how many steps I have taken or my heart rate," he says.

The demand for smartwear devices shows no sign of receding in India, though. According to the second quarter data compiled by the International Data Corporation (IDC) last year, wristbands formed a major chuck of the shipment in smartwear device category, with some of the major players being Xiaomi, GOQii, Titan (Fastrack Reflex), Fitbit and Lenovo, in that order. What’s more, the recent acquisition of Fitbit by Google for $2.1 billion is being seen as a move to aid Google’s entry into the fitness tracker market.

But there are many like Khan and Srivastava, who have bought fitness devices or have downloaded fitness apps with great expectations only to cut them out of their routine owing to overload of information and notifications, data inaccuracy and unreachable or too simple targets. While the concept of wearable devices is a decade old, in India, the fitness tracker device has gained popularity only in the past three-four years due to the increased dialogue on healthy lifestyle.

Jaipal Singh, associate research manager (client devices), IDC India, divides the fitness device users in two segments—hard-core users and enthusiasts. “When the enthusiasts buy the device, they initially feel motivated and the use is high. However, most activities like steps, heart rate, and sleep are routine tasks. After some time, as there is no engagement, many quit," he says. While he doesn’t have specific numbers, Singh admits that he has seen many enthusiastic users quit fitness trackers.

Logging out

While the device encourages the user to move about, several users complain of inaccuracy in the captured data. For instance, Mumbai’s Sabaah Potia, 26, associate at the strategy communication and corporate social responsibility advisory company The Good Edge, says she got fed up with her wristband as she started yoga. “The band was not useful. It wouldn’t count the movement in Hatha and Aerial yoga." She used the device for four months, and eventually, like Khan, decided to give it up after she felt she was obsessing over the steps target. “I also felt the device never got my heartbeat or sleeping pattern right. Sometimes I had to manually log the information."

Sabaah Potia gave up her fitness tracker after four months because it didn’t factor in her yoga activity.
Sabaah Potia gave up her fitness tracker after four months because it didn’t factor in her yoga activity.

When Gaurav Rastogi, 42, started using his smartwear fitness device earlier this year, he would track his activity and the progress on a daily basis. His excitement lasted for a month and a half. “It’s an overkill of information and forces me to track more frequently than I want to. I just couldn’t see the upside of using it," says Singapore-based Rastogi, co-founder of online mutual fund investments platform Kuvera, who cycles to work. "When people invest in mutual funds, they ask us tons of questions about prices, past returns, fund managers, etc. But none of these predict future returns at all. But somehow when we have the data, we think we are empowered," he says.

Some people got tired was the constant checking of the device. During the initial days, Khan used to check her wearable device almost every minute. Rohan Kumar, 35, manager at Capgemini, used to do the same. After using a smartwear device for six years, he gave it up last year. The reason: “I just got bored."

Kumar admits the device encouraged him to be fit initially because of its one unique feature: much like social media, the device allowed his friends to check his data and vice-versa. “I would compare my friends’ stats and try to do better. It was a healthy competition," he says. But the addictive nature of the device was not helping me, he adds.

During the peak of her obsession with finishing the day’s target of 8,000 steps, Khan would resort to cheating. “The device counts the train journey as activity and counts them as steps. I would happily count them too in my day’s quota of steps." Then there were times, when she would feel guilty about not achieving the target and keep walking at home before going to sleep. “When you don’t achieve the target the device would give a negative feedback. It made me feel so guilty," she says.

AT THE COST OF HEALTH

Having read about how fitness trackers and apps help users embrace a healthy lifestyle, Delhi’s Nilofar Shamim Haja, 36, content and marketing lead, Nivi India, an online platform providing information for family planning, downloaded a fitness and a calorie calculator app in May.

“I didn’t want to invest in a wearable device without first trying out free apps. Seeing data on screen about the number of steps I had taken in a day or week and how many calories I have burnt was motivation enough to keep checking in," she says. So, began the task of being mindful about calorie consumption. Within three weeks, her “love affair turned sour". “It became obsessive and I would end up overdoing the walks and physical movement just to get to that ideal daily calorie count. Every meal was quantified and tracked, with the associated guilt that comes with an extra portion," she says.

While the apps aren’t holding the users at gunpoint to follow their recommendation, Haja believes the nature of any interactive platform or digital service is such that “they incrementally modify our behaviour and turn it into compulsive habits. Being mindful about how we eat is helpful and necessary, so that we can take charge of faulty eating habits. But micromanaging our food intake and constantly tracking every toss and turn, bend and kick and walk is tedious and tiring."

Once an activity feels like a chore, procrastination sets in. This is something Altaf Patel, 36, manager at a consumer durable company, is well aware of. On a friend’s suggestion, Patel downloaded the nutrition and calorie-calculator app and used it merely a week. “The intention was to keep a track of the calorie. But who will keep track of how much each food portion’s calorie value is and feed it at the end of the meal? Initially, I was motivated but it was short-lived," he says. Now, he is mindful of the food portion he has and goes for a three to five-kilometre walk every morning. He doesn’t track his progress.

2point5’s Khan, meanwhile, goes to gym at her convenience. “I feel much better in every sense."

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