Wearable Technology

Why Is Wearable Tech So Damn Addictive?

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

In February 2014, FitBit announced a voluntary recall of its FitBit Force wristband activity trackers, as some users of the popular wearable tech were complaining of itchy rashes and burns on their wrists. Then, on March 12, 2014, The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) officially announced a full recall of the Fitbit Force, recalling over one million units sold in the United States and about 28,000 units sold in Canada.  As of today, over 1,000 people have complained of blisters on the company’s forum.  FitBit fully supports the recall and promised every user a full refund.  So, one would think most FitBit Force users will be returning their wristbands, right?

Wrong.  Many FitBit users are actually ignoring the recall, because they are addicted to the technology. They see no need to stop if the negative effects are not showing up on their own wrists.  Let’s do some quick math.  And a general guideline, about 1 of every 10 people who have an issue with a product will complain about it, either publically online or directly to the company.  Which means if there are over 1,000 people complaining about blisters, there may be as many as 10,000 FitBit Force users who are actually experiencing blisters.  10,000 people experiencing blisters divided by roughly 1 million daily users equals 0.01.  This means about 1% of the FitBit Force user population is experiencing the rash or blisters.  It’s tough to put an exact number on, but I would say a large majority of FitBit Force users are really happy with it, and see no reason to return it if their own wrists look fine.  Very few FitBit Force users have actually returned them even though the Company and CPSC have made the recall mandatory for all users.

It’s this writer’s opinion that this widespread consumer push-back to the mandatory recall can be largely attributed to America’s new addiction to wearable technology and moreover, the information overload that wearable technology causes. Let me give you an example.  In the old days, when a baby cried in the middle of the night, the parent(s) would wake up. Ahh, nature.  Then the baby monitor was invented, so parents could listen more closely to their children, and from other parts of the house.  Nowadays, baby mamas can watch a live video stream of their sleeping babies, with some parents even constantly monitoring the baby’s pulse like the NYSE ticker.  Don’t get me wrong, these new monitors have saved lives and are critical for monitoring sickly newborns or special needs children.  My point is that there is WAY more information available now than ever before, and the increase in personal monitoring is making people more aware of themselves.

Not all wearable tech will make you more self-aware.  Some products will make you more pet-centric; the Whistle is supposedly like a FitBit for dogs.  The Whistle provides a visual summary of your dog’s daily activities, including walks, playtime, and periods of rest  There are also GPS products that will help you find your pet if they run away, or worse, get stolen.  Or maybe you just want to make sure your dog-walker is dog-walking where they say they are.  Many Whistle users often become obsessed with their dogs heart rates and sleeping patterns, but in turn, their dogs are living longer lives, so what’s wrong with that?

It would be interesting to see what would happen if hypothetically Whistle had a similar recall to the FitBit Force.  How many dog owners would be likely to follow the manufacturer’s mandatory recall, if less than 1% of the dog owners were complaining? Personally, I think the dog owners would be more likely to return the recalled product, because their pets can’t exactly complain about a rash like a human would.  They would play it safe, right? Let’s try another 1 out of 100 example.

Pretend you enjoyed Brand C cola every day, but one day you found out that 1 of every 100 people got a rash and blisters after drinking Brand C cola.  Even if you did not have a rash, you would probably expect a full recall of that product, and you would probably stop drinking it until they fixed the issue, right?  You might try another cola until Brand C was determined safe. Or maybe you are a gun enthusiast who bought a rifle and later found out that 1 out of every 100 of that model would misfire after a year. You might think about returning that gun and getting another, right?

So why is wearable tech so addictive? Why are FitBit Force users acting like cigarette smokers? It’s because of the constant stream of information, the big data of the human body.  The addiction can be held by a single person tracking their own progress, or a group of individuals, who like to share their data.  Its not the technology they are addicted to, if it was the calculator watch would be more popular. No, its the constant flow of the data, the big data of the human body, and the ease of sharing that data with your peers, that makes it so popular and addictive.

Don’t believe me?  Try this experiment.  Find 10 people who work in the same office with who each want to lose 10 pounds.  Have them each give you 10 dollars up front and the first one to lose the weight gets the 100 dollars.  Now put a scale in a public location and let the 10 folks in the contest post their current weights on a chart or whiteboard near the scale. I guarantee you the first people to lose the 10 pounds will be the ones who weigh themselves most often, and post their progress publicly against the group. Not necessarily those who seem to be the most active!  There will always be some who seem to “drop out” of the contest and not weigh themselves at all, saying they don’t care about the weight lose contest. Just like those who say wearable tech is a fad.  These are the same folks who quit using Facebook (crazy, right?)  But not us; we will use Facebook daily, and we will post our weight proudly.  We believe in Big Data, even on the small scale……get it?


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