Jawbone UP Band – we are what we measure

I recently received a Jawbone UP band as a gift.  It is one of a handful of devices on the market designed to help you live a better, happier, life through measurement.  And who doesn’t love fun with measurement?!

Jawbone UP

The are tons of UP product reviews out there so I won’t take a full stab at that.  In terms of my experience with the UP band, I find it comfortable to wear, reassuringly low-tech (techies grouse that it doesn’t use Bluetooth to synch to your iPhone, I find that somewhat comforting since I’m wearing it 24/7), and I love the fact that the battery lasts for 10 days so I don’t have yet another device to charge daily.

It syncs to my iPhone using the audio (headphone) port which was surprising but which works very well and quickly.  UP’s iPhone software is slick enough, and except for a few minor annoyances (around logging and editing activities) I don’t have any real complaints.  I have already lost the tiny charger – which is hard to find anywhere but online – and people complain about losing the cap at one end of the wristband, thought I’ve managed not to lose mine, yet.

Unlike the Nike Fuelband, Jawbone’s UP band measures both activity and sleep.  Given how structured my days are, I quickly discovered that measuring my activity level (steps taken) has been interesting but has had little effect.  I walk 3.75 miles each day as part of my commute, and I generally move around a good deal while I’m at the office, so while I enjoy seeing the activity information I could soon live without it.

The part that has been more revolutionary is sleep information.  I have no idea of the accuracy of the data, but the UP band tells me how long I’ve slept, how often I’ve woken up (though I’ve found it can’t fully distinguish between asleep and lying in bed with my eyes open), and it gives a minute-by-minute tracking of light and deep sleep.  This has been quite profound, because seeing the feedback on my sleep has taught me how sensitive I am to the amount of sleep I get and how my body does what it can to catch up when I fall behind on sleep (more deep sleep after nights of less sleep).  I can see the effects of just 10 minutes of meditation before bed (better, deeper sleep).  I can see the direct tradeoff I end up making between sleeping and exercising.  And I can no longer trick myself into thinking that missing an hour of sleep, or even a half hour, doesn’t affect me – it does.

Perhaps the most interesting societal part these observations is that while we know that sleep and activity are the two most important ingredients to living a happy and healthy life, it would seem natural to talk about exercising more and hitting a daily 10,000 steps goal (I’m not – I’m usually at around 7,800); whereas boasting that I’m doing a much better job at getting the 7 ½ hours of sleep I need seems odd.  It’s as if being a high-achiever and sleeping enough are somehow at odds, as if acknowledging that I need as much sleep as the next guy is an admission of just a little bit of frailty.

In one of the funniest and most honest interviews I ever read with GE CEO Jeff Immelt, Immelt joked that “If I put my head down at your feet right now, I’d be asleep in 30 seconds. I can sleep anywhere, anyplace, anytime.”  That’s how tiring it was to be the CEO of GE.  These stories abound.  And while I admit to secretly wanting to be the kind of person who can produce at high levels and feel great with 4 or 5 hours of sleep, the truth is I’m not wired that way.

So, while I can’t tell you whether the UP band is better or worse than the Fitbit or the Nike Fuelband as an activity tracker, I will say that I prefer having a device that helps me keep track of how I spend all 24 hours of my day and not just the 16 ½ (or so) that I spend awake.

And it seems pretty clear to me that the next iteration of the smartphone is going to be some sort of wearable device, and I wonder if 10 years from now we’ll all laugh that we had those clunky things in our pockets, as we’ll have devices on our wrists that have all the functionality of our phones and of activity-trackers, and we’ll use glasses or any screen in front of us as visual displays.

In the meantime, sleep well.