Diet by humiliation
With a scale, Twitter and a worldwide support group, dieting enters web 2.0.
During the first couple of months of every new year two things are inevitable. One, gadget gift recipients spoil their new tech toys with full battery charges and shiny protective cases. Two, fitness enthusiasts crowd their local gyms with new track pants and lofty weight-loss goals. In 2010, these two things merged together for a good friend of mine in a most peculiar way. Leo Laporte calls his experiment "diet by humiliation." His device is a scale, his platform is Twitter, and his support groups are everywhere.
"My weight: 215.8 lb. 41.6 lb to go." This is the most recent tweet from Leo's scale (@leos_scale). Every time my tech-loving friend stands on his WiFi Body Scale from Withings, this very personal information is broadcast to the online world. While this might sound like a dieter's bad dream, or a woman's worst nightmare, for those folks out there who have tried every weight watchin' plan under the sun, it might just be what the doctor ordered.
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With more than 2,000 people following Leo's scale on Twitter, he's greeted with daily cheerleading messages such as "You've lost 2lbs. Way to go, Leo!" and "It's strange but your scale is giving me motivation to work a little harder and eat a little better." Of course there are also the critics, filling his web feed with comments ranging from "Come on shed those pounds" to "A little water retention?" Turns out, just like people, words of encouragement come in all shapes and sizes (at least on Twitter the words are limited, always weighing in at 140 characters or less).
Now, don't be fooled. The Withings gadget isn't just a one-way ticket to Twitter, although this is definitely one of its more attractive offerings for the Web 2.0 crowd. The social media scale has some pretty compelling features for the geek in all of us. Its dark metallic case and digital display make it look more like a distant cousin to the new Apple iPad than an object that should sit prominently on the floor beside the toilet. Think sexy sharp, with a tinge of sophistication, just shy of an inch thick and weighing in around five pounds. Moreover, it's ready to swallow your more intimate information.
The device's software interface, which is also available as an iPhone app, lets you track your diet progress online using some snazzy looking graphs, mapping your weight, fat mass and lean mass. If your entire family ate too much turkey over the holidays, you can also include them (up to eight users) using the web service. The scale runs on three "AAA" batteries and connects wirelessly to the Internet (hence the easy-to-manage Twitter updates).
If sharing your diet ups and downs is not in the cards, you can turn on the scale's privacy settings. Twitter integration is also an opt-in feature. If you do choose to send stats to Twitter, you don't have to follow Leo's lead and send a tweet every time you step on the scale. You have the option to send updates daily, weekly or monthly. While the Withings scale is a little more expensive than your average analog variety, at $160 it's a pretty reasonable purchase for anyone committed to using technology to control temptation.
As for Leo, he is dropping his unwanted weight slowly and steadily. Whether or not Withings is to thank, it's tough to say. As he continues his diet by humiliation we will all be watching, sending him tweets of encouragement and wondering if our own goal-setting future is destined for the web.
How quick are you to adopt new technologies?
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- I'm a tech-head — first in line to buy the latest and greatest.
- I'll typically wait for the first wave to pass and the bugs fixed before diving in.
- If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I hang on to my tech goodies for good reason.
- I'm still using a VCR and my late '90s flip phone.