The Gospel Of Fitbit

fitbitMaybe it’s best to say upfront that I don’t own and have never used a Fitbit. And yet given their prevalence, it’s impossible to not be familiar with them. But just in case that some of you are among the uninitiated, Fitbit is a wireless device that people wear on their body so that it can measure any number of things most famously the number of steps one takes in a day. I know that some of you are mentally correcting me because Fitbit is a brand not a device. So is Kleenex but you say that all the time so get over it.

The Fitbit is a great little device that can helpfully measure and track all kinds of helpful information and be the catalyst some need to improve their health. But of course we human beings have an amazing ability to take good things and misuse them. It seems that the Fitbit is susceptible to the same kind of corruption.

The device is one more yardstick that we can measure ourselves and determine whether we are a success or a failure. Did I take enough steps today? Did I hit my goal? And since one can post daily results online there lurks the temptation to compare yourself to your friends. I’m not saying that this temptation to constantly measure ourselves is peculiar to the Fitbit. Not at all. It joins a long list of ways that we measure ourselves in order to determine whether we are good people or are doing enough or are winning in our respective field. It sits alongside the scale, GPA, salary, and of course many others.

The Fitbit is supposed to change a person’s behavior. Mission accomplished. Much of the change is good like walking more and driving less. But of course not all the behavioral change is so noble. One woman told me that the people in her office use Fitbits to determine the winner of an office challenge to take the most steps in a month. The problem is that at least a few people figured out that if you wear the device on your arm and swing it while sitting at your desk, it incorrectly thinks you’re walking and measures steps instead of simply “arm swings.”

It’s commonly known that whatever we measure we will usually get more of. For example, hybrid cars measure and report to their driver how many miles per gallon the car is getting at any particular moment. This display changes behavior causing hybrid drivers to avoid hills and accelerate more slowly. (Hint: If you’re in a hurry, never get behind a Prius at a stoplight). Given that it would be good for most of us to take more steps, the Fitbit’s measurements can be helpful.

But the dark side is that when we measure output to determine success there will always be the temptation to cheat whether that is swinging your arm as you sit in order to look like you have taken more steps or conjure up false scores so that it looks like your students did better on standardized testing. 

Some Fitbit users say that the device has made their workouts more stressful because they are checking to see how they’re doing and whether they’ve done enough to meet their goal or beat out a friend. I thought that we exercised to reduce stress and now we’ve created a machine that increases anxiety? I guess that we will have to find another way to reduce stress.

Perhaps you are able to use your Fitbit in a healthy way that doesn’t induce comparison or set you on a roller coaster of emotions or lead to feelings of pride (I did it!) or defeat (I failed.) If so, that’s great. And you may very well see me wearing a Fitbit one day. My personality (or maybe it’s just my sin) is already prone to wanting to “keep score” so I’m not sure that a device that provides another way of doing that would be especially good for me.

If I have a point it’s this: The culture we live in always comes up with more and more ways for us to keep score that will either leave us feeling self-satisfied or crushed depending on how we measure up at that particular moment. And if we aren’t very, very careful, we will begin to believe that God works the same way. The good news of the gospel is that God accepts us, not because of what we do, but because of what Jesus did. We don’t have to  measure up or be good enough. God offers a grace and freedom to our soul that we desperately crave but can’t find anywhere else. The Gospel of Jesus is far better than the Gospel of Fitbit.

One Comment

  1. Effie Darlene Barba said:

    Great message, thank you

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