This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Your dad is in love with his FitBit, that girl at work has a borderline pathological obsession with her calorie-counting app, and you can't stop looking at your Monzo stats, desperate to figure out where all your money goes. (It’s the pub).
In the modern world, we have become obsessed with tracking our data. Why? Because “data is the new oil,” as your boyfriend recently mansplained. In a world where tech giants make millions by tracking everything from our clicks to our conversations, it’s no wonder we’re all convinced that getting to grips with our personal stats is the key to financial wellbeing, health, and happiness. There are now an estimated 160,000 health trackers available on the App Store, and the number of connected wearable devices like FitBits and Apple Watches is estimated to reach 1.1 billion by 2022.
And it’s not just our own personal data we’re obsessed with mining. Nowadays, your furry pals can get in on the wearable tech trend: pet FitBits are a thing. In fact, they’re becoming so popular that some pet insurance providers are offering discounts for pet owners who sign their four-legged friends up for health tracking gadgets, as reported by the Financial Times earlier this year.
By now, we’re all familiar with the criticisms launched at human health trackers, with various studies suggesting that the data provided by FitBits and Apple Watches is inaccurate, and others concluding that the use of such devices probably won’t improve your health. So aside from the potential financial incentive for pet owners, is there anything to be gained by giving your cat or dog a fitness tracker?
I wanted to find out for myself, but since my own fluffy babies are a moody little bitch who lives in the north east with my parents, and a delicate old lady who is too scared to ever leave the house, I needed a volunteer. Enter my pal Izzy and her cat Kubrick, the Maine Coon. Izzy was keen to get in on the experiment in the hopes of shedding some light on what her baby boy gets up to when he stays out all night and rolls home in the morning “smelling of salmon and Chanel No. 5.”
To carry out such groundbreaking investigative journalism, I had to make sure I was equipped with only the most advanced pet monitoring technology. After shopping around and weighing up the frankly unnecessary number of products available, I decided on the Tractive IKATI. Retailing at £44.99 [$55.29] (probably more than I’d spend on a tracker for myself), the IKATI launched earlier this month and is the first device for cats to offer an activity monitor, as well as GPS tracking.
By attaching the tracker to their kitty’s collar and paying a monthly subscription fee of £3.33 [$4.09], users are able to track their pet via an app that shows their activity and location. Activity is categorized as ‘lazy,’ ‘active,’ or ‘dynamic’, and ‘Pet Points’ are awarded based on how active your furry friend has been, with the option of setting a daily Pet Point goal and seeing how your pet ranks on an overall leaderboard, or against your friends and their pets.
You can also set up a ‘virtual safety fence’ around your home and receive notifications should your pet ever travel outside of this area. The tracker even has a 'live' mode, giving you location updates every two to five seconds, which would only really be useful in the unlikely event that Kubrick was kidnapped and we were involved in a high-speed chase to rescue him.
After fitting Kubrick up with his flash new gadget (which made him look like an electronically tagged criminal), we let him out to roam the mean streets of south London and settled in to stalk him. The novelty of having a new app to check made it quite addictive for the first few days, and I found myself clicking on Tractive as frequently as I refresh Twitter and Instagram. Some of Kubrick’s behavior was deeply intriguing, particularly in the middle of the night when he was most active, at times springing into life and once even daring to step outside of his virtual safety fence.
In many ways, the experience was similar to that of checking social media—the excitement when Kubrick had a sudden burst of activity was comparable to the serotonin dump of coming across a really good meme, while the disappointment of finding that he was sleeping at home was similar to refreshing your news feed and finding nothing new or exciting.
But in the absence of any kidnapping incidents, was the information we gleaned from Kubrick's kitty fitness tracker actually useful? Well, yes and no. Given that Kubrick is the kind of swaggering guy to slink off for long periods (to see his other woman?), it was reassuring to be able to check up on him and discover he was actually in the next door neighbor’s garden most of the time. Yet in the absence of any guidelines around what, exactly, constitutes a ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ level of activity and sleep for a cat of Kubrick’s breed, size, and age, the activity monitor didn’t provide any particularly special insight into his overall health. Even if it were able to tell us that he should probably be a bit more active, it’s not as if we could do anything about it. Have you ever told a cat it should go for a run or consider joining a Spin class?
Ultimately, the most useful (and horrifying) discovery was that according to the data collected by my iPhone’s health app, over a week of tracking him, Kubrick—a literal cat, who sleeps for a minimum of 40 percent of every day—covered twice more distance on his prowls than me, a human being with much longer legs. That might not tell us anything about his health, but it probably means I should join a gym or something, which is absolutely not the conclusion I wanted from all of this.
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