My Slavish Devotion to a Fitness App
My wristwatch—the same one I’ve worn for the past 30 years—tells me exactly two things: time and date. It doesn’t do anything else.
And I have stuck with this trusty old timepiece, while friends and relatives have all made the jump to digital devices (so-called “smart watches”) that can alert them of incoming texts or emails, track their heart rate or step count, and can even tell them when to pop their probiotics.
No, thank you. I’ve had zero interest in composing a text message, making a phone call, or even reading a book, on my watch. Just the current time, please.
And should some competitive fellow inquire as to how many steps I may have walked on any given day, I could offer him my honest (though inscrutable) reply, “I have no idea.” (Had I walked 100 steps that day? Or 100,000? Who knows?)
But then came that fateful day, when I finally upgraded my old cellphone.
Examining this shiny new device, my wondering eyes were met with a bewildering array of features, including a “Health” app, which would automatically (provided I kept said phone in hip-pocket) count each and every step I took.
At first I didn’t even bother looking at this app, preferring to leave my fitness details a mystery.
But then, one morning as we sat together at our breakfast counter, my wife began scrutinizing her cumulative step total for that month on her cellphone, which instantly piqued my own curiosity. Fishing my new phone out of my pocket, I stared intently at that unassuming icon—a small white square with a big red heart in the middle.
And, with just the lightest touch of my finger… Presto! There it was: my own step-tally in large, bold digits. I suddenly knew exactly how many steps I’d taken during that particular day, week, month and year. Scrolling down, I beheld a collage of colored charts and graphs and trend-lines, to help me analyze all of that personal cardio data.
I couldn’t help myself. I sneaked a sly glance over at my wife’s total step count, and was suddenly galled to discover that hers was higher.
Next morning, I was up early, cellphone tucked securely into pocket, pedaling our stationary-bike with a single-minded purpose. I tried switching over to the rowing-machine, but switched immediately back to the bike upon discovering that those gliding motions of the rower did not move my cellphone’s step counter. I haven’t used that rowing-machine in months. Why put myself to any exertion that’s not going to advance my cumulative step-count?
(We were once a quarter of a mile into our daily walk when I discovered I’d left my phone at home and became instantly tormented for the rest of our stroll by nagging thoughts of my wife racking up thousands of precious steps, while I was earning none!)
I can now admit that it’s become something of an obsession: taking the longer way around the yard when doing chores; striding resolutely up and down every single aisle of a grocery store; even stepping in place, by the side of the bed, clutching my phone in my hand, to ensure that I make my daily minimum goal of 10,000 steps.
I am writing this column first thing in the morning, but have already been on the treadmill to give myself a 1,000-step cushion to begin the day. And, before long, after an hour of sedentary typing at the computer, my phone is going to shame me with this passively aggressive observation: “You’re not walking as far as you usually do by this time of day.”
And, like a trained monkey, I will spring slavishly up from my chair and go plodding around the house several times, just to satisfy this omniscient digital taskmaster.
Is this a good thing? It does prompt me to walk more than I probably would otherwise. But have I become a robotically ambulating drone—endlessly slogging onward for the hollow reward of an impressive step count at the end of each day, each month, each year?
I’ve actually used safety-pins to secure my phone into my pocket so it wouldn’t fall out while playing tennis, or bike-riding, or jump-roping, because… you know… that all-important step-count.
Obsession? Yes. Healthy? I’m not so sure.
But might I ever actually break this spell? Could I possibly throw off the yoke of my digital tyranny and just go romping nonchalantly up Canal Canyon with no thought of numbers, or tallies, or totals?
Are you kidding? That Canal Canyon hike is worth over 18,000 steps!
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