​The Quantified Dog: Are We Out of Bad Ideas?

Last week, tech companies offered the web their April Fool's "jokes," like cats with dead mice, and we all sort of uncomfortably nodded. It's never been harder to discern a facetious idea from the genuine article than right now—and when "Fitbit for your pet" is considered a real business, who's to say what's a joke anymore?

Whistle is a $130 collar for your dog that uses embedded sensors to measure its activity, which is then relayed to your smartphone and computer. Whistle is real, though it has all the trappings of a high production value prank: a spiffy website, well-lit product shots, and haute marketing rhetoric:

The Whistle provides a visual summary of your dog's daily activities, including walks, playtime, and periods of rest. You can set a daily goal and monitor how your pup is doing throughout the day.

Stay connected to your dog whether you are away at work, on vacation, or gone for the day. You'll be able to know what your dog is up to and see who they're spending time with.

Whistle paints a full picture of your pet's health and activity, tracking trends over time. We're building a comprehensive database, providing access to key information that helps both you and your vet make more informed healthcare decisions about your dog.

It's more or less the exact same pitch companies like Fitbit make to dog owners:

If you want to turn fitness into a lifestyle, the One™ is for you. For starters, it never rests. During the day, it tracks your steps, distance, calories burned, and stairs climbed...The One™ motivates you to reach your goals by bringing greater fitness into your life – seamlessly, socially, 24 hours a day.

Each conceit is the same: measuring your life will make your life better by revealing patterns and metrics you didn't even know were there. Roll out of bed, check how many times you twitched in your sleep, and become Nate Silver. It can be a lot of fun, if not entirely useful for actually living better, or healthier—Fitbits and FuelBands are basically nerdy toys for adults, many of which are idle, flabby, and uninterested in physical reform, but like having LEDs on their wrist and reading cool charts.

​The Quantified Dog: Are We Out of Bad Ideas?

The difference, of course, is that dogs don't give a fuck about LEDs. Dogs can't read charts. Dogs don't need quantified Bluetooth-enabled metrics gathering to live or feel better. But TechCrunch reporters do:

As Whistle gathers more data on a wider and wider range of dogs, a lot of cool opportunities will likely present themselves — both in terms of data and reporting for dog owners themselves, and for, say, veterinarians who would love to see this kind of data.

Let me present an alternative. If you want to have a healthy and happy dog, here's what you do:

1. Buy three tennis balls on Amazon for two bucks.

2. Throw two of them onto your neighbor's roof or something, because you only need one.

3. Take your dog to the park.

4. Throw a tennis ball as far as you can.

5. Let your dog go fucking apeshit with pleasure as it chases the ball and then runs itself into a tired, satisfied stupor.

6. Do this a lot.

Look you've just saved $128, and gained the knowledge that you can keep an animal friend in good condition without needing accelerometers or algorithms, as man and dog have accomplished for millennia.

​The Quantified Dog: Are We Out of Bad Ideas?

But there are those within the silicon set who delight in this sort of frivolity—the sort who maybe drink vitamin slurry for dinner, or feverishly track how many stairs they've climbed since July. More and more, startups indulge the same nerve receptors that fire up when we watch a Rube Goldberg contraption in action; we're not getting any actual benefit from superfluous tech, but boy, look at it go! If something is meticulously designed, investors are likely to give it a pass for being entirely useless—just look at Path. The Whistle hits the same notes, asking us to simply think That's neat! rather than Ought we to live in a society that markets fitness trackers for animals that naturally run around a lot on their own anyway?

That's beside the point: wearable tech is so very in right now, which means Whistle could sew up a tidy $6 million venture capital round without having to prove its own utility. Even better: its users will never question this utility, because they cannot talk, because they are dogs. Whistle's human customers will love geeking out over the data visuals it churns out too much to care about whether it's making a dog better. Whistle's human backers can sit back and assume the Fitbits of the world are already plotting an acquisition offer, and the best engineering minds of a generation can dedicate themselves to new endeavors: what will we quantify next? Babies? Pumpkins? Spaghetti? How much would quantified spaghetti really surprise you in a year?