We start with a comparison of the initial versus the prolonged use for the purposive and the explorative group, focusing on the frequency of checking the (online) feedback and the frequency of wearing the tracker. We then analyze reported experiences in detail to better understand the needs trackers fulfill and to establish differences across the two user groups as well as over time.
How Did Usage Change Over Time?
Frequency of Checking the Feedback
A repeated measures ANOVA with estimated frequency of checking the feedback as the dependent variable, time (initial versus prolonged use) as a within-subject variable, and use (explorative versus purposive) as a between-subjects variable revealed a significant main effect for time, F (1131) = 64.0, p < 0.001, h
= 0.33. The estimated frequency of checking decreased from an average of 3.8 on a 5-point scale to an average of 2.7 on a group level. In addition, a main effect of use emerged, F (1131) = 8.0, p < 0.01, h
= 0.06. Purposive users checked the feedback more often (M = 3.4) than explorative users (M = 2.9). The interaction between time and use remained insignificant (see Fig. 2).
The participants provided a number of reasons able to explain the decrease in checking the feedback over time. First, participants found the information provided to increasingly lack meaning (N = 8). As one participant noted: “There’s definitely the idea that collecting data is useful, but after a while, you figure out that numbers are just numbers. I did notice that when I drink more coffee I tend to go to sleep later and not sleep very well. Fitbit didn’t tell me any of that, it’s just a locker for all my habits and activities” [P91].
Second, participants reported to miss support for user-initiated logging (N = 4), such as logging one’s food intake, activities and body measurements, blood pressure and glucose. This led to a decrease in the use of the online tool over time: “I found myself frequently forgetting to input a meal or note the time I ran 12 blocks because I was late for a meeting. At that point, it started to feel like all my data was bunk and incomplete, so I just ditched it all and went back to tracking steps” [P93]. This emphasizes the need for data completeness. When a complete account of own behaviors was not attainable, the perceived value of the relevant of the tracker appeared diminished.
Third, participants reported an increased sense of accomplishment (N = 4), leading to a decreased reliance on the tool to achieve their goals: “I don’t look at it that much anymore. It got me going in the first months then it was all up to me. I keep walking a lot, I just needed an initial push” [P89]. This highlights the “scaffolding” nature of current trackers (Gouveia et al. 2015): while they may support overcoming initial motivational problems, they become obsolete, the moment an appropriate practice is established.
While the former two reasons hint at trackers’ potential shortcomings in supporting behavior change, the latter reason suggests that a reduced frequency of checking the feedback is an expected outcome and even implies successful adoption of healthier practices. Next, we explore whether this decrease in the frequency of checking the feedback goes hand in hand with a decrease in the frequency of wearing the tool.
Frequency of Wearing the Tracker
A repeated measures ANOVA with estimated frequency of wearing the tool as the dependent variable, time (initial versus prolonged use) as a within-subject variable, and use (explorative versus purposive) as a between-subjects variable revealed a significant main effect for time,
F (1131) = 11.1, p < 0.001, h
= 0.08. The frequency of wearing the tool decreased from an average of 4.1 on a 5-point scale to an average of 3.9 in prolonged use. In addition, a main effect of use emerged, F (1131) = 11.5, p < 0.001, h
= 0.08. This effect was further qualified by a significant interaction of time and use, F (1131) = 4.7, p < 0.05, h
= 0.05. Pair-wise t tests revealed significant differences in frequency of wearing the tracker for the explorative (initial use: M = 3.9, SD = 0.8, prolonged use: M = 3.2, SD = 1.3, t (28) = 2.9, p < 0.01) but not for the purposive usage group (M = 4.2, SD = 1.0, prolonged use: M = 4.0, SD = 0.9, t (103) = 1.0, p > 0.10) (see Fig. 3).
Our qualitative analysis revealed a number of reasons why purposive users (who constituted the majority of our sample) reduced the frequency of checking data, but still keep on wearing the tracker.
First, we found that people kept wearing the tracker due to the potential future value of data accumulation. As one participant noted: “I used to look at my data much more than I do now. Now I just keep track of things. I guess I don’t want to lose all this information since it really helped me move my ass around. You never know when it’ll become handy, maybe I’ll show it to my doctor at my next checkup!” [P131].
Second, while the online feedback lost its significance over time, the primary value of the tracker was in maintaining awareness and re-assuring users about their current level of physical activity: “(…) I keep it on to check how I’m doing right now. I simply need to press a button to get an overall idea of how I am. It’s much simpler than having to look at a bunch of information and thinking about it”.
Third, the mere act of wearing the tracker empowered users as it enhanced their sense of self: “I keep tracking my data which is a confidence booster because it backs up the belief in my mind that I’ve done enough exercise” [P95].
Which Needs are Fulfilled by Wearable Activity Trackers?
Table 4 (columns 2 and 3) shows the mean saliency (95 % Confidence Interval) of the experienced need fulfillment for each of the ten psychological needs. Physical thriving, autonomy and competence were the most salient needs with mean ratings higher than four on a five-point intensity scale. They were followed by pleasure-stimulation, self-esteem and self-actualization–meaning. Popularity and relatedness constituted the third group, while security and luxury were the group of the least salient needs with mean ratings of three and lower on the five-point scale.
All needs but security and luxury had a significant positive correlation with positive affect while controlling for negative affect (Table 4, column 4). Since later qualitative findings also revealed minimal relevance of security and luxury in users’ experiences with the trackers, these two categories were excluded from further analyses.
The simple bivariate correlations among needs (see Table 2) already hint at potential groups of relevant needs when experiencing activity trackers. A second-order Principal Components Analysis (PCA) of the eight needs with Varimax (orthogonal) rotation revealed a two-dimensional structure. Component 1 consisted of physical thriving, competence, self-esteem, stimulation and autonomy and accounted for 50 % of the variance in participants’ ratings. Component 2 consisted of relatedness, popularity and meaning and accounted for 14 % of the variance in participants’ ratings (Table 4, column 5 and 6, for the loadings of the eight needs on the two components; Fig. 1 for a plot).
All in all, one can clearly distinguish two sources of meaningful experience. One is not surprisingly fueled by the experience of physical thriving. Success is then mainly marked by feelings of competence and self-esteem. However, positive experiences can also be motivated socially by relatedness and popularity. Meaning is in between both, underlining its rather universal nature (Fig. 4).
In the remainder of the section, we qualitatively analyze the reported experiences. Our goal is to elaborate the ways in which trackers address human needs and to further inquire into the differences between explorative and purposive use as well as between initial and prolonged use. While we knew for how long each participant owned the tool, the majority of participants did not provide any information about when the reported experience took place. However, in most cases this could be inferred from their qualitative accounts. We classified each provided narrative as being either (a) an experience which took place during initial use or (b) an experience which took place during prolonged use. This was done on the basis of explicit references to time (e.g., “I was initially shocked as I realized how inactive I was…”). Two researchers performed this categorization independently. Interrater agreement was satisfactory (Cohen’s K = 0.71). Cases of disagreement were either resolved jointly by the two researchers or removed from the dataset. Overall, 57 (43 %) of experience narratives related to initial use and 62 (47 %) to prolonged use. For 14 narratives (10 %) it was impossible to infer a category.
Experiences of Physical Thriving, Competence and Self-Esteem
Initial experiences among the exploratory group, were often marked by dismay: The biggest shock was actually seeing how much I sit. I was completely unaware that I spend 8-9 h per day at a desk! I completely overestimated how much exercise I got into my days” [P58], or “I’ve never worried about my health until getting my Fuelband. I’ve always thought I was in perfect shape but boy was I wrong. (…) It was a wake-up call. You only realize after putting a number on these things” [P44]. Suddenly, people realized how little they actually walk. This impacted how they felt about their bodies. As one participant noted: “Even though I have a slim silhouette, I felt, to put it bluntly, fat. I never thought I was so unhealthy (…) it made me think about my family. If I’m unfit, they’re even in worse shape!” [P56].
In contrast, participants from the purposive group already had a more or less realistic sense of their current activity levels, e.g., “Seeing my initial numbers wasn’t surprising, I kind of expected it (…) well, I did buy it to become healthier, so I kind of knew I would be starting from the bottom” [P7].
Over time, as participants started to achieve or even surpassed their daily activity goals, they reported that the feedback influenced the perception of their health and wellbeing: “Seeing the numbers stack up makes me feel healthier” [P20], “(…) having knowledge that I am getting enough exercise every day makes me feel good about myself. It also keeps my body feeling good and if you feel good then your day is good” [P57].
Overall, the narratives suggest that feelings of physical thriving, competence and self-esteem tend not to wear off even after extended use and were strongly related to goal-setting: “(…) Hitting my goals day after day makes me feel more able to achieve a healthier lifestyle” [P50].
Autonomy and Meaning
We found activity trackers to profoundly shape participants’ experiences through empowering them to make necessary changes in their lives that were previously thought of as impossible or difficult. This provided a sense of autonomy, a feeling to be the cause of one’s actions. As one of the participants commented:
“I was sitting in a chair on the pool deck watching my daughter swim this morning because I didn’t feel like swimming today. I was feeling too guilty about just sitting and realized there was no reason I couldn’t just walk laps around the pool while she swam. I found that it took 15 laps to equal 1000 steps! I realized I can do this every morning (or afternoon or whenever) for the rest of the summer when she wants to swim. I can do it in my bathing suit and then just jump in the pool afterward and swim with her for two more exercises. I had 5000 steps before noon today - really good for a Saturday!” [P4].
In some instances, participants remarked how the tracker supported them in developing their best potential and making life meaningful through enabling them to attain their ideal self, e.g., “After about 6 months I started to notice a completely different person when I looked in the mirror and I owe it all to the Fuelband” [P12], “(…) my BMI level is perfect (…) it’s a rewarding feeling to accomplish something that I used to think was impossible” [P3]. In addition, it inspired a deeper understanding of own behavior, e.g., “(…) it helped me reach a state where I really understand myself” [P93].
Popularity and Relatedness
As we mentioned earlier, social aspects constituted a distinct second component in users’ experiences with the activity trackers. Trackers supported the users’ need for relatedness in a number of ways. First, participating in the online community provided a sense of belonging and social support, as individuals would interact with others that had similar goals and faced similar challenges. As one participant noted:
“it’s encouraging to be connected to people all over the world and to see their daily activity and sleep patterns. To know that I am not the only one having a bad day now or then or that my sleep patterns are not that crazy” [P33].
Second, trackers became the pivotal element of direct social support. Some participants reported purchasing a tracker to support a family member or close friend in overcoming his or her weight problem. Using the tracker and going through this effort together provided them with a sense of closeness, as one participant said:
“[I got the tracker] to support my younger sister, who was struggling with trying to lose weight (…) After a day or so we stopped comparing daily goals because I did not want to discourage her. We still wore our bands, and after 2 months we did a major weigh in (…) sharing this experience with my sister has been a lot of fun” [P112].
Last, we found that the trackers stimulated feelings of popularity and social affirmation, when others would show interest in it, e.g., “I have recommended it to all my friends! It’s nice when they actually listen to my advice instead of criticizing me” [P132], as well as individuals, who would compete and try to outperform others, e.g., “I love moving up in the rankings, they’ll have to try harder to beat ME! (…) they keep asking me how I manage (to overtake them)” [P35].
Finally, similar to prior work that has highlighted playfulness (Lucero et al. 2014) and stimulation (Diefenbach et al. 2014) as crucial experiential qualities in the adoption of interactive products, participants often remarked on the ludic character of the trackers and the pleasure derived either from the act of tracking one’s behaviors, e.g., “I love being able to see how far I’ve come from when I wake up in the morning to when I go to sleep at night” [P12], or from turning an activity experienced as chore into fun through game mechanics, e.g., “I enjoyed getting a ‘score’ for each one of my workouts (…) I thought it looked really fun, which is not something I usually associate with getting fit” [P115].