A Fitbit can constantly track your steps, heart rate, and burned calories — but in the process, it can also inadvertently capture life events, like heartbreak, as one Israeli man recently learned.
Saturday started out like any other day for Koby Soto. Soto, 28, lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, where he is in the process of finishing up a law degree at Tel Aviv University. (He’s also the co-founder of Guesty, a Y Combinator–backed startup that helps customers manage their Airbnbs and other rental properties.) On Saturday, he and his then-boyfriend of a few months, a fellow law student, were planning to take the night off from cramming for exams.
Then Soto got a call from his boyfriend. “He said that we’re going to have to cancel, and I said ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘Things are not working as they should,’” Soto recalled in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “I said, ‘Are you serious? You’re doing this over the phone?’”
That night, a sad and stunned Soto was venting to a friend, who told him to relax. Soto replied that he couldn’t sleep or even study — and as if to prove it, he opened his Fitbit app with the intent of sharing a screenshot of his heart rate at that moment. For the last five months, he’s worn a Fitbit Charge HR, one of many gadgets with which he loves to quantify his life; he also owns an app-controlled lock, a Nest security camera, even a coffee machine programmed to boil a cup of java at the same time every day.
To Soto’s surprise, the app displayed data for the entire day — starting in the morning, when his average resting heart rate was a calm 72 beats per minute, and from noon onwards, when the call came and his heart rate immediately climbed past 88. It was elevated for most of the afternoon, at one point nearly reaching 118, and finally dipped back to normal levels at night.
Soto usually looks at the app after gymnastics workouts, but most of the time, he says, he forgets that the device is quietly tracking his physiological signs around the clock. “I wasn’t doing anything, I didn’t go to the gym, I didn’t expect the Fitbit to even track me,” he told BuzzFeed News. “It was just on me.”
He doesn’t see this as an intrusion, though.
“I feel like it’s nice to have a log of your confirmation of what you felt. You can tell people you have heartbreak and you feel bad,” Soto said. “People become less cynical once you show them the numbers or once you show the data or graphs. Everyone understands heartbreak, right? Everyone’s felt it. When you have this, it’s interesting — you have something to show.”
As more and more people wear activity-tracking devices, they’re realizing what Soto did: Wearables don’t only capture the data you think you want to capture, but also everything else that happens while you’re wearing them.
Last fall, a Massachusetts teen went to the doctor after getting a series of unusually high heart rate readings off his new Apple Watch — and learned that they were signs of a potentially fatal muscle injury. Researchers are also giving wearables and smartphone apps to clinical trial participants so they can learn about how conditions like heart disease and asthma affect their everyday lives.
A few days have passed since Soto’s breakup, and he’s trying to stay busy to keep the sadness at bay. There is one silver lining, though, since his screenshot — shared on Twitter and Hacker News — started garnering hundreds of likes and retweets. His heart rate, he said, “is a little bit high.”
Stephanie Lee is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
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