Whether measuring sleep, flights of steps, various types of heart rate or “activity” whatever that might mean, all of this otherwise wasted data is right there for you dangling in the aether. You just need to pull it from the winds of your daily life, harness it, control it, and squeeze it into tools to power your life even more.
I’ve always been a sceptic of these things, but tracking has now become ubiquitous. Your phone does it. Now your watch with yet another screen does it. More and more people are joining the fray, hurling themselves into a better-managed life.
I got to talking with a friend who designs these sorts of things for a living about measuring heart rate. I have longstanding stomach issues. By issues I mean I’ve had food poisoning about ten times more often than most people, and the doctors have only half figured out why. But apparently, there’s this foggy notion of ‘inflammation’ in the body. You eat a bad thing, your become inflamed. This sounded right up my alley. I must be doing something – no matter how healthy I try to live – drastically wrong because I seem to be inflamed all the time. But this can allegedly be measured, like a tire gauge I imagined, by your heart rate.
So I strapped up and signed up with the Garmin Vivo 3 fitness tracker that among other things measures heart rate very accurately. I charged it. I connected it. I massaged its controls and stroked all the connections and adjustments all into place to begin my quantified life. It lasted a week and a half.
The first thing I noticed is that another device takes a lot of effort. It needed me to do things. It needed me to look at it, continually tap it, stroke it, charge it, feed and care for it like some twisted lifestyle blogger Tamagotchi for the worried well.
I was getting data though, specifically on my heart rate, and it was of course disappointingly inconclusive. It didn’t tell me shit as it were. I could not work out what was affecting what. There were no correlations, no graphs that matched up that pointed to the source.
I eat well one day, attempt this meditation thing and then lie down for a bit and get a 61. The following day I eat deliciously sugar-laden rubbish, endure an hour of misery being penned up in public transportation underground and get 66. One of my lowest heart rates was when I just had a curry while my kids were doing my head in. What are the scores even? How do I win? I soon realised, I can’t. There’s just too damn much, and most of it doesn’t connect, correlate or collect in a form that will ever make things better for me. What I’m left with is another thing that I need to manage.
It was there reminding me, sometimes three times along with my phone and computer all at once, that there’s so much more to do, so much more to quantify and that my inadequacy should be a nagging source of massive embarrassment. It begged me to tap it and view numbers at various times. It needed me so badly that it would start buzzing and pleading when it was away from the phone. It even had me whip my arm up in a very particular direction to tell the time. It was a relationship fit for daytime TV as it cajoled me into more and more worry that I wasn’t good enough and then gave me mixed signals in return.
Getting numbers about your regular, daily life is in some cases probably very useful, but only if you have the time to read loads of medical journals. I was going about things all wrong, mainly because I’m not a gastroenterologist in a controlled trial yet I was playing one. I don’t need any more connection in my life and chances are you don’t either, yet we chain ourselves to systems and devices without any knowledge of what we’ll ever truly get out of them in the long run and any benefit beyond the novelty.