Categories
health

Tracking health data for its own sake

For the past few months, I’ve been using my Apple Watch to track my sleep. AutoSleep uses the device’s internal accelerometer to measure both sleep quality and total sleep time.

The app is surprisingly accurate, and it’s fun to peek at my sleep stats each morning. But I don’t actually do much with that data. The numbers don’t factor directly into my bedtime decisions or sleep habits.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that my sleep tracking efforts are fruitless. There’s something powerful about knowing where I stand—particularly when it comes to health.

Take food tracking as a example. For the past year or so, I’ve input my consumed food via an app called Lose It. I don’t really adhere to a strict daily limit, but knowing how gluttonous I’ve been earlier in the day is often just enough motivation to resist dessert. Conversely, when I don’t record my meals, I tend to overeat.

Weighing myself each morning has proven similarly useful. Again, I don’t have strict weight loss targets; I simply record my poundage day after day using Vekt for the Apple Watch. This habit populates the Apple Health database with a running tally, giving me a general idea of which direction my weight is trending.

That knowledge leads to better food choices—almost automatically. If my weight drifts too high, I find myself gravitating to healthier options—fruit instead of sweets, salads instead of sandwiches, water rather than Coke. Conversely, when I’m hovering near my ideal weight, I’ll reward myself with an extra treat or two.


All that to say, even if my sleep stats seem inconsequential, I’m going to continue wearing my Apple Watch to bed. I’m hoping that a peripheral awareness of my sleep habits may (subliminally) lead to better sleep decisions. Maybe I’ll skip that Netflix binge in favor of an early bedtime. ■

Categories
tech

Never not connected: tracking gadget usage all day (and all night)

Last week, I compared my own media habits to those of the “average American.” As I tallied the hours, I was struck by how much of my waking life is spent using gadgets. Here’s my average weekday, with the devices italicized:

  • 4 AM: alarm goes off. I immediately reach for my iPhone. I spend 30–45 minutes (sometimes as long as an hour) catching up on Twitter via Tweetbot.
  • 5 AM: morning restroom visit; I typically weigh myself and record the result using Vekt on my Apple Watch.
  • 5:05 AM: meditation practice; I time my mindfulness sessions using Headspace or Insight Timer on my iPhone.
  • 5:30 AM: writing. I typically draft my posts in Sublime Text 3 on my HP ZBook Studio laptop, then queue up each article in WordPress.
  • 6:30 AM: exercising (if writing doesn’t consume the extra time). I track my workouts on the Apple Watch, and I usually listen to podcasts using Overcast on my iPhone (since podcasts on the Apple Watch are a no-go).
  • 7:30 AM: shower and prep for work. This is one of the few gadgetless reprieves in my day, although I have taken to wearing my water-resistant Apple Watch in the shower lately. It’s helpful to know how long I have before I need to punch the clock.
  • 8:00 AM: workday. I work in communications for a commercial real estate firm). My typical day at the office involves writing, light graphics editing, and layout, all of which keep me tied to my HP laptop. I dock the unit and connect it to the three external Dell monitors that ring my makeshift treadmill desk.
  • 12:00 PM: lunch. I often listen to podcasts on my iPhone while I cook, then browse Tweetbot as I eat. When I can squeeze it in, I’ll record the daily Careful Tech podcast using my laptop during this lunch break, too.
  • 1:00 PM: work, round two. More laptop use.
  • 5:00 PM: dinner prep and family time. This is the only stretch of the day when I truly set aside my gadgets. We may play some music on the Amazon Echo in the kitchen (my daughter is currently enamored with the song “Monster Mash”) or snap a few photos. For the most part, though, we aim to be present to each other during these pre-bedtime hours.
  • 7:00 PM: with our toddler in bed, my wife and I collapse in front of our TCL Roku TV to enjoy an episode or two of our favorite shows. Programs we’ve recently binge-watched include Stranger Things, The Great British Bake-off, Silicon Valley, and Star Trek: Discovery. When one of us is away for the evening, we have our own personal favorites (I’ve recently gotten into Halt and Catch Fire). Regardless of what’s on the TV, our primary attention is directed to our phones; my wife gravitates to Instagram and Facebook; I prefer Twitter.
  • 8:30 PM: evening bathroom routine. Yes, I often brush my teeth while scrolling through Tweetbot on my phone. Honestly, the main reason I hate flossing is that I need both hands to do it—and that means I have to set the phone down.
  • 9:00 PM: bedtime. It only takes a few minutes of Twitter-browsing on the iPhone in bed before I start to nod off.
  • 9:15 PM: sleep. I’ve taken to wearing my Apple Watch at night for sleep-tracking purposes. Autosleep uses the wearable device’s accelerometer to record how much rest I get each night. I don’t use this data for much of anything, but it’s fun to track.

In summary, I spend my entire day (and night!) using one device or another in one way or another.

That realization is sobering. So much of my life is tied to gadgets! In particular, I’m troubled by the fact that Twitter has become my default way to kill time. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up. It’s the last thing I do before falling asleep. I turn to it at the slightest sign of boredom. At least some of that time could be better spent—even if it just meant I was more present with my own thoughts.

On the other hand, just because my entire day involves gadgets doesn’t mean it revolves around gadgets. We use these devices for everything now; they can empower intentional, productive activity just as much as they can enable pointless or self-destructive behavior. For example, my (iPhone-led) meditation sessions are certainly beneficial, as is the sleep- and exercise-tracking made possible by my Apple Watch. And I don’t feel guilty that my work life requires constant connectivity; that’s the norm for most knowledge workers these days. ■

Categories
movies TV

Trek envy

J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek reboot focused on the franchise’s original characters: Kirk. Spock. McCoy. Scotty.

It must feel unfair to the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After all, in terms of sheer screen time, they’ve got the original cast beat. We have many more hours of Trek with Picard at the helm than with Kirk. Yet no one’s seriously considering a TNG reboot. And even hard-core fans would squirm if Abrams tried to shoehorn Troi or Geordi into the alternative timeline established by the new movies.

That hasn’t stopped the actors from trying. Every so often, Brent Spiner or Jonathan Frakes shameless pitch themselves for the next Abrams flick. “Of course they could bring me back!” they protest, “It’s Star Trek, for God’s sake! A malfunctioning transporter! A clone experiment gone wrong! Time travel! You fans should write letters demanding my character’s return!”

This sort of self-promotion irks me, for several reasons. First, it reeks of desperation. Open groveling breaks my heart. Second, it proves how little these actors understand storytelling. Fan service does not a good plot make. Finally, such role-grubbing seems ungrateful. Where’s the respect for the fictional universe that brought them international fame and commercial success?

Then again, maybe they shouldn’t be grateful. Trek has a way of hijacking actors’ careers. Once you’re typecast as the childlike android or the chair-challenged commander, it’s tough to earn a non-Trek gig.[1] You’re doomed to attend an endless series of nerdy conventions, answering the same questions again and again. There’s only so many times you can wax eloquent about Wesley’s sweaters or Riker’s beard before you go mad.

It’s no wonder that the TNGers hunger for a more mainstream spotlight.


  1. The only notable exception is Patrick Stewart, whose British theater connections (and sheer awesomeness) kept his career from going Picard-centric.  ↩