“Why are you brushing your teeth with your left hand?” asks my wife, Heather. I’m awkwardly flailing with the Oral-B, jamming it into the roof of my mouth, prodding the inside of my cheek and stabbing my tongue. Brushing southpaw feels less like using the wrong hand than using the wrong brain. But I have to do it because I’m fooling my Apple Watch. I’m at 98 percent of my daily movement goal, and I’m trying to convince the watch that I’m taking vigorous steps rather than punching myself in the gums.
It doesn’t fall for it, so I’m forced to go walk in the kitchen for 10 minutes. I try to pretend like I’m doing chores, in case my neighbors happen to look over. I don’t know why I’m embarrassed. I’m just a grown man pacing through his house at night to satisfy an arbitrary goal monitored by a small box strapped to his arm. Apple Watch: It’s like an ankle bracelet for your wrist!
Heather got me the Apple Watch as a Hail Mary Father’s Day present, one that affirms the non-gift-friendly nature of my lifestyle. Guys who golf a lot, they get golf stuff. Guys who dress nice, they get clothes. Guys who are into Tuvan throat singing, they get tickets to Mongolia to see Huun-Huur-Tu perform hits from their album 60 Horses in My Herd. I don’t have anything obvious like that. When Heather asks me what I want for a gift, I’ll say something like, “Hmm, a set of high-flow fuel injectors for the Bronco would be nice.” And then she’ll ask again, and again, until I name something that doesn’t cost $5,000 or involve a week on the Baja peninsula. I should just say I’m into turtles or something.
She settled on the watch because I mentioned I was interested in a Fitbit to encourage me to exercise. The Apple Watch is, of course, quite a bit more elaborate. It can check email, send texts and tell you the weather. It can stream music, make phone calls and get you an Uber. It can even tell time.
But the most important function is the activity tracker. Every day, you have three different goals: standing, movement and exercise. I’ll be honest that I don’t really know how the standing goal is calculated but I always hit that. Exercise is tougher, since you have to have your heart rate up for half an hour. Movement, though, is the worst. The watch’s factory-set goal was 1,000 calories a day, which is about what you burn if you’re doing a full triathlon and also you’re an adult rhinoceros. My first week with the watch, I did a six-mile run only to find I hadn’t yet satisfied the cruel taskmaster on my wrist. So I reset the goal down to 700 calories. Sound easy? That still works out to about five miles of daily perambulation. You might walk a couple miles a day in the course of your normal routine. But five miles is a challenge. Five miles, you’ve got to go looking for it.
And I usually do, which is a good thing. A few weeks ago I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and had some time before dinner. I felt like getting a beer, and my hotel had a perfectly good bar. But the watch told me I was way off my movement goal, so I decided to walk into town. And that’s how I walked five miles for a beer. On the plus side: exercise. On the negative side: blisters and constant mental duress. Also, during the walk back, Heather called me. Since I didn’t have my phone, I answered with the watch. Perhaps in 1963 it seemed impossibly cool and futuristic to make a phone call on a watch, but the reality is that talking to your watch is about as cool as getting a giant tattoo of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. A bunch of University of Michigan girls walked by while I was on my watch-call, and they glanced at me with an equal mixture of pity and derision as I strolled past with my wrist to my mouth, looking like I was about to chew off my hand but hadn’t quite summoned the will. Alternatively, you can make calls over Apple AirPods, which make you look like you have cigarette butts jammed in your ears. Aesthetically, the watch-phone has a ways to go.
But in most other ways, the Apple Watch is pretty miraculous. Still, I resent it a little. If I’m sitting at my computer, writing, eventually it will tell me I should stand up for a minute. Oh yeah? Some of us have work to do, you know. How about I just dangle my arm straight down from the chair and see if you can tell the difference? Guess what? You can’t. Stupid watch just gave me credit for standing when I totally didn’t. That’s right. I’m the captain now. And I’m gonna do whatever I want. Right after I run 50 laps around the dining table. ◆
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