Tuesday night, I came home to find a package waiting for me in the mailbox. It was a Jawbone UP! I breathlessly peeled it out of its case (notably well-designed, by the way) and stuck it on my wrist. I’m not only a game designer, I’ve also been trying to stay active while writing my dissertation, which is harder than you’d think – so I’m analyzing this thing both as a researcher and as a user.
For those following along at home, the UP is a system that tracks your activity, eating and sleep habits. The system includes a rubberized wristband, which has an accelerometer and a button that lets you give it some explicit instructions, like “I’m working out now” and “I’m sleeping now.” It connects to an app, which lets you see your results, and also lets you take pictures of your food for later analysis.
Some things about it are awesome …
Always available. I’ve owned a pedometer for years. Guess how often I remember to clip it on when I’m heading out? I can wear the wristband anywhere – even in the shower. If I never take it off, I never have to remember to put it back on. Similarly, my phone is the one thing I can count on always having nearby. I can check my data anytime, which is super motivating. For example, today I decided to do errands on my way home, instead of asking my husband to do them, because I checked my activity level on my way out of the office and realized it was low.
Sleep data. In addition to telling me how much I sleep, the band collects data on the quality and depth of my sleep. It can tell when I wake up in the middle of the night, when I’m sleeping deeply, and when I’m only lightly dozing. It gives me an overall sleep quality rating, and a picture of when I was in which mode of sleep during the night. Very cool.
Activity and food reminders. The band can be set to vibrate at various periods during the day, if you haven’t gotten any activity recently. (I’ve got mine set for once per hour.) The app pops up a notification asking you how you feel three hours after each meal. Together, these reminders mean that you never have to think about the app; it nudges you when it’s time for you to take action, and it doesn’t have to occupy mental space in between. As someone who has a lot going on, I really appreciate that feature.
On the other hand …
Alarm stupidity. The band’s got a built-in alarm system that wakes you up when it thinks, based on physiological signals, that your body is most ready to be awake. You give it a half-hour range and it does its best! The problem is that it keeps waking me up 12-15 minutes before I hit my sleep goals for the day. I’m walking around all day with a 99% full sleep meter, and wishing I could just tell the thing to be a little more chill when I’m about to get a full seven hours. But I can’t shift my alarm later because if it wakes me up too late, I won’t make it to the office on time. The app knows about my sleep goals; it should use that information to manage my alarm settings.
Requires connectivity. Instead of keeping my data on my phone, it logs it back to a central server every single time there’s an update. This might not be a problem for some people, but my office has neither wireless nor cell phone reception. It means I have to walk upstairs to check on my data – which, okay, okay, means I’m getting more activity, but it’s also kind of a pain.
Data analysis. Or rather, the extremely light-weight nature thereof. All you can really see is how you’ve done that day. No graphs, no charts, no trends – or if there are any, they’re so deeply buried I haven’t found them yet. I’m hoping they release better data analysis tools and more visualizations over time.
And here’s what I’ve learned about myself …
I sleep less than I think. I spent all of high-school and college perpetually sleep-deprived, so I like to boast about how getting eight hours of sleep a night is a priority. Turns out I sleep less than that – a lot less. My longest night of sleep so far was just over seven hours. If that’s a pattern, it needs to change.
I walk more than I think – a lot more. I like to walk, and for a while my husband and I were walking something like twenty miles a week, on top of our normal everyday activity. With my crazy deadlines, that’s fallen by the wayside a bit – but my “everyday” level of activity is still over 2 miles a day. That’s not awful, and I’m finding ways to increase it in one-minute increments. That way I can maintain a better baseline of activity even when I’m swamped, like I am now.
I rarely eat between meals. In fact, my biggest challenge is that I forget to eat, and then get hungry, cranky and headachy. I have to stop grabbing whatever’s handy at 3pm.
I’ll be reporting back in a couple of weeks, so I’ll let you know how much of this is first-blush excitement and how much is sustainable. I’m guessing the latter, especially if I can find some people I know who are also trying this thing. I wouldn’t want to share my data with strangers, but I’d love to collaborate with (and challenge!) my friends. So if you’re UP for it (oh, but you knew I was going there at some point) let me know and I’ll add you to my team!