“I need your arm! Give me your arm!” my son Zack yelled from the backseat.
“Buddy, I also need my arm. It’s working the steering wheel,” I said.
“Why does he want your arm?” my wife, Kara, asked.
“He wants to see if Daddy did his steps today. Did you do them yet, Daddy?” our other son, Evan, replied, while Zack raised his eyebrows to see what the answer would be.
The kids have been very interested in my physical fitness (such as it is) ever since I started wearing a Fitbit, the device that allows you to quantify stuff you used to do for fun. No longer do walking and sleeping have to be just regular, joyous activities. The Fitbit allows you to hang metrics on them, track trends, and set goals, to help ensure that your regular life feels indistinguishable from work.
If you’ve never seen a Fitbit, the device looks like one of those old rubber Livestrong bracelets that people used to wear back when Lance Armstrong was a great champion that everyone just kind of assumed was probably cheating. Those bracelets disappeared once everyone confirmed that everyone was right about that guy, but Fitbits have since arrived to fill the rubber-jewelry void.
When we stopped the car, I reached back to let Zack tap my FitBit twice. For every 2,500 steps you take in a day, you earn a little LED light that flashes for a moment when you tap it. If you make all four LEDs light up, that means you’ve walked 10,000 steps that day, and you’ve earned the right not to do anything else. I’m not sure that’s the conclusion that the FitBit makers intended, but if not, they should have put more lights on the thing.
“Can you get me some pretzels?” my wife Kara will ask me.
“Sorry, babe, you’ll have to get them yourself. I already spent all my steps today,” I’ll tell her. Then I’ll have a hearty laugh at my insolence as I get her the pretzels anyway, because that is what’s best for my health.
Back in the car, I felt two little taps on my wrist.
“You got three lights!” Zack said.
“That means I’ve walked over 7,500 steps so far today,” I said.
“Steps” might be a misnomer, though, since I’ve noticed the FitBit counting movements that could be construed as something other than exercise. For instance, when you’re eating a cider doughnut, the kind with cinnamon and sugar caked all over it (which really should be the only kind), and you dab the doughnut into the powder that’s fallen onto your napkin to make sure you don’t miss any of it – the Fitbit counts each dab as a step.
“You’re having another doughnut?” Kara will ask.
“Gotta get my reps in,” I’ll reply.
But no matter how ill-gotten the steps may be, the kids are always impressed.
“Wow! 7,500! Is that more than a million?” Zack asked.
“Yes, it sure is,” I said, giving him the gift of a bionic dad. Someday, when he realizes I’ve been answering his questions incorrectly for his whole life, he’ll probably get a good chuckle out of it, or put me in a home.
“No it isn’t! Don’t listen to him, Zack! A million is WAY more!” Evan yelled, trying to keep me out of the home.
Despite all of its (and my) flaws, the novelty hasn’t yet worn off of the FitBit. The thing has a kind of charm, in that it makes you feel like you’re exercising for doing the things you were going to do anyway. For now, I’ll stick with it, if only to make sure I keep getting credit for not wasting any of the sugar and cinnamon.
You can walk a million steps with Mike Todd at email@example.com.