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My wrist gadget dictates


If I stay out of hospital, I win and so do my health-insurers, so if they count me taking 10000 steps a day my premium shrinks

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When future ages look at our time, one thing they’ll laugh at is people banging their fists on the table and swearing “no machine will rule my life”. What liars we are!

I was a vocal liar when I first pulled a thin black band onto my wrist; a Fitbit, the gadget that now, every step I take, is watching me. And watching every beat of my heart and every calorie expended.

This sprang from Discovery’s smart medical-aiding – bribe the populace to keep themselves fit.

Fit people submit fewer claims.

If I stay out of hospital, I win and so do my health-insurers, so if they count me taking 10000 steps a day my premium shrinks.

Which is a major league of win-win except that it makes your life a constant contest over who’s boss.

At the start I blustered with the best: “this device must know its place”! and indeed. If 9900 was up when bedtime came, bedtime it was. Sorry about that, device, try again tomorrow.

But that count becomes intoxicating. I started stretching a point, if I was on 9500 when the sheets beckoned, I’d slip out and around the block.

And once you stretch a point, you know what happens.

You stretch again, and then some more.

Now I can discover with horror at 11pm that I’m only on 6200, and I’m out pounding the night.

The Fitbit makes other changes, too.

On an airport bus among the serried mass of hemmed-in humanity clutching their straps in the hope of the accursed vehicle at last getting started, a bobbing head and a flurrying denote a Fitbitter doing it on the spot (and causing gritted teeth among the neighbours). Supermarket queues are suspect too.

Then there’s the core cardinal split between rational and irrational Fitbitting.

Rationally, you do it for the reduction of your premium, so you must do it every single damn day or it’s pointless.

I’m happy in the irrational team, which I think is in this respect in a (rare) minority.

I can’t oblige my wrist every day and that’s flat. Or do I mean “won’t”? Whichever, it’s equally flat. Some days run short of hours. The world record for 10000m is 26 minutes, my phone declares.

A strong pair of young legs might notch that up within an hour.

But at a Toppies’ rate, you put a 10th of your waking day into giving your wrist its victory dance. Some days prohibit it.

A better criterion would be 70000 steps over the week, actually. Even then, some of us would rebel sometimes.

There’s an irony: you can get proud of the six days a week that your wrist sends a congratulatory white star to your phone, but also proud of the times you score a mere bump at the base of the graph and can say “Whew, relief, once a week I’m brave enough and human enough to overrule my wristband”.

All of which is small next to the two major discoveries.

One of these is the drug-like fix that you start attuning to from a 10km walk (nearly) every day.

The other is the new view of your world and city.

When in my forties I rediscovered bicycles, I learnt that familiar places look stunningly different from a saddle than from behind a windscreen.

Now the uplifting discovery that they look as different again when your two feet are tramping the tarmac.

After a lifetime as a Joburger, I’m seeing a different Joburg. The Stoep will tell you a bit about that.