As a tech journalist I’m always getting new gadgets sent to the office to play with. I’m currently testing out my latest catch, a nifty smartwatch called the Steel HR from Withings. This smartwatch falls under the category of a “hybrid”. That essentially means that it looks like a normal watch to the outside world, with old fashioned hands and a clock face, but it has the latest geeky tech hidden under the surface. So, in addition to performing mundane functions, like telling the time, it also captures data about my lack of physical activity and poor sleeping patterns, then beams it to my iPhone via Bluetooth, where it is presented back to me as a series of horrifying graphs that show me exactly how little sleep I’m getting and why I can look forward to a cardiac event around the age of 50.
How it works its magic I don’t really know, but it does seem to be unerringly accurate. It knows exactly when I get up, and go to bed, its graph of my daily activity looks about right and it also makes a note of how deeply I sleep and exactly when I woke up because my wife has elbowed me in the ribs for snoring too loudly. As I look upon my stats (and despair) I often wonder if this tech had been around before I became a dad what the contrast in my sleeping patterns would have been like. I imagine it would have looked somewhat akin to the Titanic’s average speed before and after it hit the iceberg.
Well done you old bugger, you’ve unlocked the ‘Made it to the toilet on time’ badge!
The watch, or my bastard PE teacher, as I fondly refer to it, has set me the goal of taking 10,000 steps a day. Unfortunately, I never seem to manage more than about half that, even on a good day when I decide to potter around a bit on my lunchbreak. Worse still, it insists on emailing my worst failures back to me, masked as victories: “Congratulations on unlocking the Quiet Day badge!”, the email merrily informs me, as I only completed a measly 4,000 steps for the day. What’s next I wonder? “Well done you old bugger, you’ve unlocked the ‘Made it to the toilet on time’ badge!” Or, “Congratulations on winning 2017’s ‘Somehow still alive’ award!”
Having not worn a watch for about 20 years, I have to say it’s been fun to wear one again. Looking back, I can’t really remember exactly when I stopped wearing a watch every day, probably sometime in my mid 20s, and then once the ubiquitous smartphone arrived I just didn’t feel like I needed one anymore. My smartphone was always in my pocket and that meant I always had the time with me. Now however, the combination of smartphone and watch together is proving a winner once more. In fact, I’m surprised at how little resistance I could summon up to the idea of wearing a band on my wrist again. In fact, I never take it off, especially as it’s waterproof, so it goes with me everywhere. If I go swimming it’s clever enough to guess what I’m doing and records my activity. When somebody texts me I get a little vibration on my wrist and the display reads out their number. It also wakes me up in the morning with a gentle vibration that’s a much preferable way to enter the realm of consciousness than a harsh, beeping alarm, or a small child jumping on my head.
Of course, my kids are too young to wear watches, but they’re very interested in why daddy is fiddling with his new watch all the time. When my youngest found out that it showed my heart rate on its digital display he immediately wanted to try it out. I strapped it on his wrist so he could try it for himself. His heart rate, at 92bpm, seemed alarmingly high. Is a heart rate of over 90 normal for manic 7 year old? I have no idea. Then, once he realised he could increase his heart rate by exercising, he immediately started running around the living room like a Tasmanian Devil, trying to make it go higher and higher.
“What’s it now Daddy? Is it over 100?”
“Yes darling, let me just check. Ah, yes, you’re at about 120, so…you’ll pass out soon I think.”
“Good!”, followed by more furious running. Then, “What happens when it’s zero?”
“Oh, that means you’re dead”.
He stopped dead in his tracks and gave me a quizzical look. Then, after thinking for a second:
“Take it off Daddy – this thing is freaking me out!”
And with that he lost all interest in smartwatches, presumably forever.
I’m starting to realise that he might have a point, though. Smartwatches can become an obsession quite easily. Having daily activity and sleeping targets to meet might make me more healthy in the long run, but it’s another thing to worry about. Now there’s pressure to hit my daily target, or I’m hit with the inevitable dissatisfaction of missing it, not to mention the temptation to continually check my heart rate to see if I’m ok. Of course I’m ok. We’re all ok most of the time. It turns out that a little technology in your life is a good thing, but when it starts ruling your life instead of enhancing it, it’s probably time to turn everything off and enjoy a bit of notification-free living. Maybe my son has the right idea after all.
Graham is Editor-in-Chief of MacFormat magazine, the UK’s best-selling Apple magazine. He lives in Bristol with his wife, two children, four iPads, one Apple TV, four iPhones and five Macs. He’s no longer sure what the order of priority he should list those things in is any more.