|Sorry I didn't get a closer shot. Zoom in; it is definitely worth it.|
The best gift is one that the recipient didn’t realize she wanted, one that she never thought she needed and never would have bought for herself but that, once given, becomes an integral part of her life. I’m not sure that I have ever given a gift like this, but I have received at least two. The first was a Kindle, given to me by my parents at Christmas when we lived in Switzerland. English-language books are expensive to purchase there and not readily available at libraries. In addition, the Kindle is easier to travel with – and move – than stacks of books. Once we purchased a case with a light, it also was easier to read in the car (as a passenger, of course!), on airplanes, or in a hotel room with sleeping kids. Now every member of the family has a Kindle (though somehow we seem to have only one charger).
The second surprise necessity was a birthday gift that Eric gave me about four years ago. It was a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch. It would tell me how far I was running, how fast, and, when I connected it to my computer, it gave me a map with my route, elevation, and pace at different points on the run. The watch was pink, which was supposed to keep the male members of the family from stealing it. That didn’t work, and so I never achieved my own records for fastest mile, 5K, or 10K. I did, however, still hold the record for longest run, since that was back in the days before some of my children became 50-mile-a-week runners and I became a runner who is delighted if I can hit 20 in a seven-day span.
The first thing I realized when I started wearing the watch is that I was running much slower than I had thought. Geneva is hilly, and without a running partner to push me, I was kind of lollygagging through those grape arbors. The watch quickly became essential to my runs. I needed to know my pace and mileage. I needed to see my route and feel virtuous about the elevation chart. So a few years later, when the watch died, I got on eBay and ordered a refurbished one (orange, this time). By this time, Johanna had become as hooked on the Forerunner as I was, so we justified the expense by saying that we were sharing. Then she went to college, so she used some of her graduation money to purchase very own lime-green model.
Right about the time Johanna left for college, the orange Forerunner began to show signs of age. It told me I had run an 11-minute mile (certainly possible, though I hope not my usual pace) followed by a 6-minute mile (not possible this side of Paradise). It couldn’t find a signal in the woods, and its battery drained in the course of a 5-mile run. By this time, Eric and Drew both had purchased way cooler Garmins, ones that linked to their cell phones and told them the weather. The watches had a sleek design, so the guys could wear them for life – not just running. I liked the idea of always knowing what time it is, so I decided it was time for me to make the leap to the next level of fitness tech. I drove to Bob Roncker’s Running Spot and plunked down the cash for my very own Garmin Vivoactive Smart Watch.
I do a Social Media and Internet unit with my basic writing class. We read about, discuss, monitor, and write about our involvement with these technologies. At the end of the unit, we try to come to some conclusions. Last spring, I had a student named Cristian, who loved computers and everything about them. Despite his enthusiasm for tech (it was so overt that his classmates called him “Apple”), his embrace of internet-linked devices was not uncritical. “People are smart, not phones,” he would say. “We need to control our devices, rather than letting them control us.”
I was not thinking about his advice when I transitioned from a regular GPS watch to a full-fledged Smart Watch. The Vivoactive thinks it is my mom – or at least my coach. If I sit for more than 30 minutes, it buzzes at me to “Move!” It greets me in the morning with the depressing news that I have taken zero steps and that the last six hours of sleeping has only burned about 268 calories. If I linked it to my cell phone, it would buzz peremptorily at me every time I got a text (I haven’t given it that kind of control yet – mostly because I haven’t taken the time to figure out how). The Vivoactive isn’t a nice, encouraging coach. It’s the demanding, impossible-to satisfy variety, the kind who says things like, “If you’re not throwing up at the end of a run, you didn’t go fast enough.” When I run with friends who have a GPS watch, their watches invariably tell them they have run more miles, faster, than my watch tells me. At first, we thought this was perhaps due to an error in the settings, and it is true that the watch thought I was male, 4 foot 10, and weighed 150 pounds. But even after correcting that, I still feel like it cheats me on every run. Further, it refuses to count any exercise I do that doesn’t involve steps. If I spend 20 minutes doing an ab workout, the calorie count doesn’t move any more than if I spend 20 minutes lying on the floor. And the watch gives credit only for speed. So after I struggle the half-mile up Mount Storm, the Vivoactive sees only the slow pace of the climb, not the high level of the exertion. I know that these watches are designed as a motivational tool for fitness. But I am not trying to lose weight or exercise more; all I really want is to be able to see how far I run, when I run, and keep track of the time of day, when I don’t. I don’t need a constant critic on my wrist. I need to listen to Cristian and not feel bullied or shamed by a piece of metal and plastic that has no ability to know or care what I’m doing.
But right now, the Vivoactive is buzzing and I need to take a run.