Last spring, I came across an article from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism about start-up Neva Labs' quest to build a news app that worked more like health and wellness apps. Co-founder Áine Kerr was quoted as saying that the company's research had found that "people want their news and information experience to be more like their health and fitness experiences: They want to set goals, control filters, discover new sources, track progress."
I find this idea interesting, if opaque, and like to amuse myself imagining what it would it look like for me to set goals and track progress for news consumption. For example, perhaps I could set a goal to consume less national news inclined to make me enraged and psychotic on a daily basis and then, in true Fitbit fashion, receive cheerful notifications: "Way to go, Julia! You made it three hours without reading about the crumbling state of society! Rock star!"
Sarcasm notwithstanding, consumer use of health and wellness apps continues to boom. A recent Forbes article on the growth of partnerships between fitness apps and streaming music services noted that the Consumer Technology Association reports that "portable consumer fitness tech" (things like Fitbits and smart watches but also, apparently, smart basketballs and baseballs) will bring in approximately $6.4 billion in sales this year in the US alone—a 10 percent increase from last year.
I've been wearing a Fitbit for three years this month (at least that's what the Fitbit says). I almost took it off after reading Dave Eggers' 2013 book The Circle, in which personal accountability and social sharing join together to create a dystopian nightmare, but then the 2016 election happened and I figured there were more alarming things to worry about than my need to ensure I'd walked 10,000 steps a day.
Besides, I don't share my Fitbit stats, compete with anyone or announce the various silly badges I've received (in May, I earned the "Nile" badge for having walked 4,132 miles). I just stomp along listening to news podcasts all by my lonesome, becoming grouchier and more despondent by the minute—it's the best part of my day and I feel no need to share it with anyone.
Simply put, Tischler records short (approximately four-minute) videos in tandem with her exercise routine. What began as an experiment in personal accountability for Tischler about a month ago morphed into an initiative in which others share their own fitness and health goals.
Tischler's videos are honest and engaging. She talks about the struggles to stay on track with exercise as the mother of three children with a full-time business. She records them after her walk, without makeup or even brushed hair (aka, how I look all the time). And her candor with her struggles around exercise, healthy eating and other topics immediately drew others in.
Last week, I met up with Tischler at 7:30 am at a city park (we decided for safety's sake not to advertise specifically where Tischler can be found) for a walk.
Tischler is not the typical social media user, as social media is her business. She met her business partner, Caitlin Jenkins, on Instagram three years ago. So in June, when Instagram rolled out IGTV' which allows users to share videos that are as long as an hour (previously they could only be a minute long), Tischler needed to be an early adopter. At the same time, she was thinking about her own personal goals around exercise, and decided to experiment with the new video service.
"The timing was serendipitous," Tischler says. "IGTV appeared on the scene, and I was trying to stay on top of that and figure that out, because it's my job. And so I thought, 'I'll go super public and make myself accountable and trick myself into walking by doing these videos.'" Quickly, she says, "People started responding; it was resonating with a lot of people."
Through a conversation in private messaging on Instagram, the idea hit to use the hashtag #instafitnessclub so that others could participate and share their own challenges and accomplishments.
"It was totally unintended and it happened fast," she says, "but that was in part because I was already comfortable making connections through social media." The project is grounded in the concept of using social media for accountability. "I make a million excuses because I have a million excuses," she says. "And then someone will tag me in their story. I'll be like, 'I got to get up and do it.'" But #instafitnessclub also "is evolving into people having conversations. … People love to share their experiences and what works for them."
And Tischler has found she's talking about exercise and food, yes, but also "whatever random thing pops into my head." Despite building a business on social media, Tischler is normally very private about her own life, so she's been surprised by her own response to the experiment. "I think the physical and emotional vulnerability that has come out has surprised me about myself," she says.
But given the fractured, pressurized landscape we all live in, she's happy to have found another outlet for building relationships. "I think we're all desperate to make these connections," she says. "Having these daily touch points has been really lovely for me."
All you need to join #instafitnessclub is an Instagram account. Follow @amytischler to see her videos and participate.