John's World: Are You Winning the Aliveness Test?

January 23, 2016 02:45 AM
John's World: Are You Winning the Aliveness Test?

Farmers are notoriously hard to buy presents for. Mostly that’s because we’re generally not into trendy new things. At least trendy things costing less than five digits. But here’s a can’t-miss suggestion: a fitness tracker. 

They come with names such as Jawbone, FitBit and SlothMaster 3000. You strap the gadget on your wrist and it records your activity level, if any. It can also give you the exact parameters of your sleeping, like grandma always wanted. So when she asks in the morning, “How did you sleep, dear?” you can reassure her, “Just over 93%.”

In my quest for an even more perfect body (ha!), I recently acquired a fitness tracker. They are all the rage, and if you get one, you’ll soon discover why people are angry. Not only can you enjoy real-time readouts similar to comatose patients in hospital dramas, you can engage in the new fun sport of competitive sleeping. As if you didn’t have enough ways to not measure up to the competition (such as cash rents), with these technological tattletales, you can share your sleep records with others. Why would you want to, you ask? Because you can, Modernity replies. 

You hope I’m kidding, but I’m deathly serious. Actually, for a while that phrase pretty much describes your entire worldview. Instead of innocently accepting evidence you are alive, such as the ability to snack and foot cramps, you can get graphs of how well you are doing this aliveness thing. When you claim to be as healthy as a horse, for example, you can display your vital signs overlaying American Pharaoh. After a while any interruption of this digital confirmation can raise more doubts about your existence than the French mathematician Descartes ever imagined.

What was amazing to me was how, within moments of throwing the instructions away, I was working to game the technology. And I’m not alone. Find a fellow “fitbitter,” and the conversation inevitably drifts to how the right rocking recliner can register footsteps to get you to your modest daily goal of 6 parsecs. 

Your pulse rate can be alarming to watch. Not that I stare at mine wondering if it’s going to stop at any minute. Since we all are experts at fooling ourselves (see also: driver’s license weight), we might be surprised when we accurately determine what really makes our hearts pound with excitement. In the two months I’ve had mine, my heart rate peaked out during Episode 4 of “The Great British Baking Show” when they were making Choux Buns Religieuse. Mom never told me about food like that.

Of course, you can keep track of your daily steps to, say, get some sense of whether you move at all during February. I use that month because that’s exactly the month we don’t talk about how hard grain farmers work. Not too many 18-hour days are being logged by corn growers during that short month, and as we gather the tracker numbers from the cloud—you can buy them online from North Korean hackers, I discovered—a strong case could be made for a growing pattern of hibernation evolving in our professional community. Virtually no physical activity is detected during late winter until the NCAA tournament, and then it’s mostly to and from the refrigerator. To be fair, you can rack up whole miles that way given our intermittent memories as we stand in front of the open frig door.

My tracker mistakes my two-finger typing for eating, so my calorie balance gets a little skewed. According to it I’m eating enough calories for a 300-lb. lumberjack but burning the same energy as an LED nightlight. That can’t be right.

My guess is we’re only an upgrade away from having our cellphone contacts invited to track our phone’s location, and how active we are when we are there. That’s right—we are wearing an adult version of Elf on the Shelf. 

Still, I wouldn’t be caught dead without mine. Because, how would I know?  

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