When I finally updated my phone’s operating system last month I noticed right away that a new app had been installed. But I didn’t open it up, because that app was called “Health” and I noticed it right in the middle of the holiday binge-eating season, when any information being gathered about my health would probably paint a pretty bleak picture. I didn’t know if my phone had a way to track how much béarnaise sauce I was dumping on my roast or just how quickly I ate a bacon wrapped chicken fried steak sandwich, but I figured it would be better for my mental health overall if I didn’t find out.
My approach to diet and exercise isn’t all that scientific, because the amount of exercise I get is determined by my diet, which I’m pretty sure isn’t how you’re supposed to do it. Responsible people in the real world incorporate exercise into their lifestyle, but I prefer to approach it the way the Catholic Church handled indulgences in the Middle Ages, where you can screw around as much as you want so long as you pay for it at some point.
Every time I say yes to a steak sandwich or a late night bag of peanut M&Ms ostensibly meant to be shared by two people, I promise myself that I’ll make up for it by doing some sort of physical activity in the near future. My system differs from the Vatican’s in that half the time I just don’t follow through on the promise, and the other half of the time I generously overestimate just how valuable the physical activity I’m getting is.
God, did I really I eat four slices of Domino’s last night? Okay, instead of taking the elevator I’ll just climb up these two flights of stairs! That ought to make up for it.
I’m well aware that this system is bullshit and I didn’t need an app telling me that too. Unless it had the ability to deliver an electric shock to my nuts every time I order fries instead of a side salad at a restaurant I couldn’t see it affecting positive change in my life. If anything, it would just give me accurate and up to the minute data with which to feel shitty about my life choices. I pictured it sending me regular push notifications:
TRUMAN – YOU WILL BE FAT IN YOUR 30S.
It was desperation that finally drove me to explore the Health app. I was stuck on the subway without my headphones, surrounded by people who looked like they were angling to strike up a conversation, and decided it was worth confronting some uncomfortable information about the state of my health if it meant I didn’t have to talk to anybody.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the only thing the app was tracking and graphing was how many steps I was taking every day. Even more pleasant was discovering that I actually do a fair amount of walking, somehow averaging close to two and a half miles a day. I really appreciate that the app only tracks the thing I’m doing right.
I got off the subway without anybody talking to me so the Health app already felt like a win. But even after I’d put my phone away I kept thinking about the information that it was gathering about my walking habits. Once I knew that every step counted toward a total, I found myself making excuses to walk further so I could make my numbers look more impressive.
It’s amazing how your behavior changes when you know you’re being watched, even if it’s just by your phone. Now that I know there’s a machine in my pocket creating a graphical representation of my lazy Sunday afternoon, I’m more motivated to go walk to Trader Joe’s just to juke the stats and keep my weekly average up. Nobody likes knowing they’re at the low point on a graph – unless it’s a graph of something bad, like hospital admissions for kinky sex accidents.
It makes me wonder how much better of a person I’d be if my phone recorded, averaged, and graphed every responsible thing that I’m supposed to be doing. Flossing, cleaning, responding to emails – I want my number of completed chores to be tracked as closely as pro football players’ number of completed passes. I want FinalDraft to graph how much progress I’m making from one day to the next so I can more effectively guilt trip myself into writing. I want to know exactly what percentage of my day I spend staring at Reddit in lieu of finding something else to do. Since I can’t convince myself to do these good things for their own merits, maybe a computer’s silent, unblinking analysis will light the necessary fire under my ass.
I guess what this means is that I’m finally warming up to the idea of surveillance. Government surveillance is still on my shit list, but if personal surveillance is what it takes to make me act more like an adult then I’ll gladly be my own Big Brother.