When I was a teenager, I met a girl at a summer program and became fast friends with her. She and I have kept in touch for over 20 years now, mostly through phone, letters, messenger programs, and texting. Every few years, she gets to visit me from her home on the other side of the country, and she last visited me near the 2017 Christmas holidays while back in our state to visit her own family.
The late hour and bad weather turned a day trip into a slumber party that ended when I had to go to bed for real in order to get up early for work the next day. As we sat on the couch drinking hard cider and talking about the local climbing gym we’d visited that afternoon, she got a small gift bag out of her backpack and handed it to me. I had a glimmer of remembrance of a conversation we had had several months before as I looked at the bag without touching it. It was lighter than I expected when I finally took it from her. Instead of finding a bottle of wine tucked into the tissue paper, I was met with a long, slim white container that housed an Apple Watch, and I gasped. I work in a store that sells these, and I know how much they cost when purchased new. She had ended up with an extra watch that actually cost her nothing, and she had owned one for at least a year herself. She gave this extra watch to me, and the conversation I relay to people now is that it was not a gift: it was an obligation to work out and be active and accountable with her. And I am on board with that.
I’ve worn both the Apple Watch and a FitBit Charge HR since the end of December, and besides looking like a ridiculous spy and feeling like a spoiled child, I have had time to have Thoughts and Feelings about my tracking devices.
Why do I still wear both? This is a question I asked of myself when I had the flu and was suffering muscle and bone aches, taking off both devices when it felt like it took all my strength to pull the covers over my head. When I’m in better health, I answered the question: community.
I’ve had a FitBit for just over two years, and I participate in challenges with several groups of friends and friends of friends, people who are across the street and across the country. I love the camaraderie of it, imagining the lives they lead and the distance that we track together. There are stay-at-home moms chasing down toddlers, people in tech trying to be active to stave off diseases born of sitting all day, people who work in factories and do ten miles a shift wearing steel-toed boots, people in all stages of fitness and physical ability and disability, people I’ve known for a decade, people I’ve never met and will never meet. I love feeling connected to these people in a small way and making small talk in our challenge messages about workouts, kids, the worries of winter storms, the flu sweeping the nation, challenges we’re taking on, all that. The favorite challenge seems to be the Workweek Hustle, though I am also fond of the Weekend Warrior, especially during this time of year, since weekends are the only time I seem to have to work out.
When I upgraded from the base model FitBit to the Charge HR last year at my birthday, I found other features that keep me wearing the watch. First of all, the alarm is a life saver – discreet, effective, reliable. I love the detailed sleep stage tracking, too, and am interested in whether looking at my heart rate tracking helps me to learn when I need to chill. The ability to track runs without using my phone is pretty sweet, though I always carry my phone on runs in order to track for CharityMiles and for safety.. I turned off text notifications on my FitBit, however, seeing that very few people actually text me with iMessage. Most of my messaging comes from my best friends, my boyfriend, and my immediate family across several messaging platforms not limited to texting. My boyfriend almost exclusively messages me on Hangouts since texting has historically been frustrating at our house given how poor the cell signal is.
The Apple Watch series one that is currently strapped to my wrist is good for discreet messaging. I wear the watch on my right hand, which usually faces away from the people I serve at my main job this time of year, so they don’t get swear word previews and such. It shows me texts from iMessage, messages from Hangouts, and messages from FB messenger. I can also make phone calls on it. The current watch face I’m using is fitness and movement-oriented, showing me how many calories it calculates I’ve burned in a day, how many minutes of exercise I’ve performed, and how many hours I’ve reached my standing goal. These are represented as concentric rings, and users get awards for closing rings throughout the day, as well as vibrating haptics that physically signal that I’ve reached a goal. Users to whom you’re connected can see your achievements, and you can cheer or taunt one another based on your day’s movements. Since she lives several time zones away, my friend and I usually receive these notifications at strange times.
It is really cool to feel my wrist buzz and know that that’s been prompted by my friend skiing or hiking or otherwise doing something she loves. We are both physically active people with an interest in the outdoors and exercise across multiple disciplines. My main focus has been running, but I do yoga, ride an exercise bike, hike, and will do almost anything else given the chance. Our Christmas visit gave me my first experience with a real climbing gym, and that was fantastic, if tiring for someone without a regular arm and back day regimen.
Until I have a compelling reason to take off one or both trackers, I’ll keep going, generating data, and enjoying my community of fitness folks, from acquaintances to best friends.