So, bond wizard Mo El-Erian has had some more time on his hands than usual in the last few weeks and it appears that he's been spending much of it focused on a fun new toy.
When I replaced my phone, I was given a free Fitbit -- one of those activity trackers you wear on your wrist that monitor how far you walk each day. I was highly skeptical, but decided to give it a try.
And try it, he did. What El-Erian has learned however is that Fitbits, even at their simplest modeling, can elicit a wide range of emotions.
For instance, it can fan the flames of his desire to dominate himself.
Measurement metrics matter, especially when they end up altering behavior and influencing self-esteem. This is particularly true for inherently competitive people. I have found myself walking around the house and hotel rooms in the evening as I try to register a minimum 10,000 steps for the day (the initial objective set by Fitbit). And when I have failed to make that goal (yes, the photo below isn't illustrative of all of last month), I have been quite disappointed.
But it has also overwhelmed him, leaving him anxious and afraid.
Multiple metrics can confuse rather than enlighten; and they can add to a sense of underachievement. My Fitbit, even though it’s the most basic model, goes beyond measuring steps and miles. It also claims to be able to tell me how many calories I have burned and the number of “active minutes” in the day -- and it sets a daily target for each.
I have no idea how I am supposed to internalize all these data points, including their order of importance. So I find myself pursuing multiple objectives that are highly correlated but, frustratingly, are not sufficiently linear in their relationship -- adding to the potential for performance anxiety.
Poor Mo. Luckily, the power of Fitbit has also given him the opportunity to dream again. To yearn for more.
And, I am told, all this pales in comparison to the capacities of the more sophisticated models, which can record a wide range of activities (such as cycling) and monitor cardio workouts. Apparently, the most advanced models also provide exercise analysis and summaries as well as log calls as texts from your smartphone.
Fitbit has also taught him about himself.
I've also discovered through my Fitbit analysis that a lot of walking gets done in airports. This was somewhat surprising. One recent day, I met a quarter of my 10,000- step objective just walking from the rental car drop-off, through security and to the boarding gate. A quarter!
But like a tiny Bill Gross strapped to his wrist, Fitbit has not been good for Mo's sleeping habits.
There is little upside to monitoring sleep if, like me, you are a lousy sleeper. My tendency to toss and turn all night was confirmed by Fitbit’s “how did I sleep” function. But quantifying it through a measurement of how many minutes I am “restless” only added to my sleep-related anxiety, making it even harder for me to get a good night’s sleep. So I no longer use that function.
Perhaps most importantly though, Fitbit is introducing El-Erian to some new friends.
It's also something of a conversation piece that attracts three types of people: The uninitiated, who seem genuinely intrigued by the black band on my wrist; the partial adopters who, like me, appreciate the functionality but aren't totally hooked (at least yet); and the truly obsessive who use really sophisticated bands that monitor an amazing array of things.
Overall, Fitbit and Mohamed El-Erian are clearly in the throes of a beautiful new relationship that we cannot wait to watch mature and grow.
Let's just hope that Mo resists the temptations of that painted whore, the Apple Watch.
What Fitbit Says About Me -- and the World [BloombergView]