Saturday, January 12, 2013

Naked on the Page

This is not me. My fingernails are not that well manicured,
and my waist is bigger. But I like how this body has a little
smoothness to its curves.
A few years ago, I wrote three rambling posts about getting skinny one summer when I lived alone and had complete control over literally everything in my life. In those posts, I write about the obsessive behavior and mental state that were needed to lose a few pounds.

The Concept
More recently, I've been tinkering with the idea of doing an extended version of something similar for work, where I have become the resident "expert" on fitness gadgets and technologies.

What I've been brainstorming is a series of blog-like posts that take a more personal and introspective approach to covering fitness tech. I want to include more of the psychological and physical issues a person undergoes when actually using fitness technologies, things like activity trackers (i.e., smart pedometers), calorie-counting apps, and social networks designed to motivate people toward living a more active lifestyle. MIT's Technology Review has had a few series of articles similar to what I have in mind in its Measured Life section.

When I write reviews of fitness gadgets, it's always the case that I've tested them over multiple days and sometimes even two weeks. It would be unfair to write about something I've used for only a few hours if that product is designed to be used over the long term. But it's tough because a "review" should still be objective and not too personal. Readers want to know a little bit about whether you (the product tester and writer) liked the product, but they don't want to hear too much about your experiences if they are not relevant to their experiences.

With fitness technologies, though, even two weeks is a relatively short amount of time to test a product. It's easy to have the wherewithal to put up with a gadget for two weeks if you know that you can put it down and forget about it after the final day. (I should say that on at least two occasions, I've continued to use a product after I wrote and published a review, and then I updated the review a few months later with even more insight into how the product works over the longer term. But that's somewhat rare.) And it's just as important to think about the very personal ways in which these gadgets, apps, and online services creep into our lives and our mental well-being.

The Elevator Pitch
So at present the elevator pitch sounds something like this: I want to write a long-term but finite series of very personal articles, with a blog-like style, about what I experience while using different fitness and health technologies. It necessarily will cover the emotional and psychological effects, as well as physical. Part of the personal experience will include visiting medical professionals, like nutritionists and personal trainers, to see if their advice matches what I get out of the technology.

Naked on the Page, or Just Vain?
I'm still bouncing it around in my head and trying to get feedback from a few co-workers and friends. (Comments welcomed.) The real worry is that it is a vain project to write about myself at length, although to be totally honest, it's still a rather scary proposition to be naked on the page.

When I wrote those posts (linked above) about "getting skinny," I had butterflies in my stomach for days before I decided to publish them. When I wrote a product review of a Wi-Fi bathroom scale and had to shoot a video to go with the review, I swallowed my pride and got on the scale to show how it works, even though that meant my weight would be seen by everyone who watched it.

It feels like a double-edge sword. I could very well get over myself and see this kind of work as something I suffer through to benefit others. Take one for the team. Be the person who's willing to be naked on the page so other people don't. On the other hand, I worry that people will see the endeavor as an act of vanity, that they'll not understand that it actually takes a lot to share those kinds of details about oneself publicly.

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