I walk the walk, but my wristband doesn’t talk the talk

Restaurant captain Yamuna Tamang is also taking part in Jawbone Challeng. Ravindranath K / The National
Restaurant captain Yamuna Tamang is also taking part in Jawbone Challeng. Ravindranath K / The National

Forrest Gump never needed technology. In his transcontinental running phase in the eponymous movie, he explained how he rested when he was tired and ate when he was hungry.

That used to be the same for me – until The National kicked off its #startwalking campaign and I began wearing a Jawbone fitness tracker on my wrist to quantify whether I was meeting the recommendation to walk at least 10,000 steps a day.

In truth, I had no idea how many steps I did. But thanks to the little blue band on my wrist, I now do. But it’s more than that. 

The associated Up programme became like a training buddy – one of those ever-so-slightly-annoying training buddies whose boundless enthusiasm is guaranteed to eventually grate on one’s nerves.

On my first full day of using the device, I exceeded the 10,000-step goal and received what was meant to be a cheerful message: “You achieved a goal! 12,803 steps.” 

If the device had a voice function, I’m sure it would have been in the perky voice of a southern California personal trainer with washboard abs.

But it quickly became apparent that the Jawbone fitness tracker use of arm motion was a blunt instrument when it came to assessing activity. That short burst of activity at 3am? That was the Jawbone picking up on me leaving my bed for a call of nature in the middle of the night, a 10-metre journey which seemed unlikely to contribute much to my overall fitness.

However, it was incapable of differentiating cycling to work from vegetating on the couch watching daytime television with Dorito crumbs down the front of my shirt. 

“Look, I’m exercising,” I wanted to protest as the daily tally showed in silent disapproval that I’d fallen short of the 10,000-step goal. Then I realised I was protesting at being judged by a blue plastic wristband.

Still, it remained in the back of my mind. I had holidays coming up in which I was sure to meet the target – and I did, but not in the way I expected. 

The Jawbone recorded my predawn journey to Dubai to catch a flight, my walk from car park to terminal, two hours of indolence waiting to hear if a stricken Turkish Airlines jet had been cleared from the runway at Kathmandu, my holiday destination, and then a despondent short walk back to the car after all flights to Nepal were cancelled.

When I flew instead to the upper Nile as a Plan B, it was easy to accumulate steps.

One day I tallied 17,644 steps as I wandered around Aswan and Edfu, the next was 24,179 in Luxor, and a third was 12,284 traipsing around the sights of the Valley of the Kings. 

“See that,” I told the wristband, “I wasn’t lying on the couch with Dorito crumbs down the front of my shirt!”

To give it due credit, the Up programme was fairly bursting with pride at this activity. “You did it!” the programme enthused – in my head in its southern Californian accent. “Three day streak!”

It was not just praising me for reaching a goal but also advised that I’d exceeded my seven-day average and was doing 4,000 steps more per day than usual for someone of my age group.

And then came the kicker: did I want to increase my goal to 13,000 steps a day, it asked, to reflect this? No, I did not.

And a week later, the weekly summary noted with yet more silent disapproval that my average daily steps was 4,000 fewer than the week before. I was back in the pack for those in my demo­graphic.

There was almost an air of resignation. “If you must sit,” it ­advised, “maintain a straight back with your feet firmly on the floor ...” 

This felt akin to lowering the expectation so low that I garnered praise for being able to eat without breaking into a sweat. 

Sorry, blue plastic wristband. I am not worthy.

jhenzell@thenational.ae

Published: March 22, 2015 04:00 AM

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