My recent couple of months with the Apple Watch taught me a lot about what it can do, what I want and how I should be approaching my life. Yes, that sounds awfully over the top, but bear with me and it may actually make sense.
Over the past few years I have spent a lot of time improving my diet, my weight and my overall fitness and the results have been impressive, if I say so myself. 100lbs in weight lost and shirt sizes dropped from XXXL to L with my waist dropping from 40” to 32”. This was not easy when I started at 47 years old because everything gets harder physically when you are older, but I did it and am happy with where I am at. My wife also lost 35lbs in weight and went from doing no exercise, besides being a very busy midwife, to running a marathon recently following a ‘lot’ of training.
This was all done by not having bad food in the house and by using Fitbit to track exercise and calories consumed, and a Fitbit Aria to weigh ourselves every single day. For me personally the numbers helped a great deal and inspired me to keep going with a specific target weight in mind. The question then became ‘when to stop?’
This was difficult because when you get in the habit of tracking your movements each day, the amount of exercise, the amount you eat and your weight it feels as though you have failed when you miss a day or take a few hours off. The paranoia of slipping back to old habits is strong, almost overwhelming, and the fitness tracker becomes the hub of all of that data and the tool you use to ensure the paranoia can be held back continually.
The problem then comes with keeping up the same regime when you hit your target weight, and you do have to keep up a regime forever to stick to a specific weight. People diet and then they stop, and then wonder why their weight goes back up? It’s easy really; calories + activity = weight and that never changes. Some people can eat a lot and stay light and people like me have to eat little to stay within range despite being over 6’ in height and big built. What should happen, however, is that once you know what you need to do you should be able to stick to that forever more and stay within a certain range. The habits have been built and you should not need a tracker to continually remind you.
I haven’t actually been able to do this until the past couple of weeks and I am quickly getting over the sense that I need to continually track my movements and everything else. It all came to a head when I started using the Apple Watch a couple of months ago, yet again, and realised that the tracking had got out of hand. I continued to try to hit a daily step count, to do specific exercises and to count every single thing I ate. Enough already!
Some things have happened recently which have made me reflect on what is important in my life and it hasn’t been the best new year so far, and then I realised that spending so much time tracking these aspects of my life just took time away from helping those who need my time. The insular farce of checking so many numbers that reflect what I have done in a day makes no sense at all when you really think about it. What exactly happens? You see that you did, for example, 12,000 steps yesterday. What exactly can you do with that information if you are not trying to lose weight? I slept 6.5 hours last night. What can I do with that? Nothing at all. The same applies to literally everything else I do and as an adult I should instinctively know what to eat, when to go to bed and if I am being a lazy git over extended periods. If I take a couple of moments now and again to just remember what I should do, I will stay within the acceptable weight range, I will remain fit and I will get the sleep my body needs. Is it really worth tracking everything forever when the benefits are potentially minimal over very long periods?
Now I realise that I am sounding like I have done what I need to do and now it’s all rubbish, but that is not how I feel. I believe that fitness trackers and the Apple Watch are game changing and they offer huge benefits to anyone who wants to get fitter and improve their health, but the question of whether that tracking should last forever is what made me say no. Specific health issues aside, nobody needs to track everything they do every day because it will just get in the way of living a life and take away time from what really matters, and that is why I ultimately sold my Apple Watch and went back to a traditional timepiece.
I have owned many Apple Watches and the past two months is, believe it or not, the longest time I have spent wearing one. It is a superb watch from a theoretical point of view; accuracy is second to none, the number of complications you can display at one time is ahead of any normal watch and little touches like the ease of strap changing enable me to understand why I see them everywhere, literally everywhere. Add the fitness and heart tracking capabilities and you have a well priced product that will only become more popular and which will likely decimate the quartz watch industry in a bigger way than quartz decimated the mechanical watch industry in the 1970’s.
The Apple Watch is in many ways the best watch on the market today and no other smartwatch comes close, and many quartz watches cannot compete either unless you are deliberately avoiding a smartwatch. The problem with the Apple Watch, at least in my eyes, is that it is soulless.
It is soulless in the way a computer or a smartphone is. They are all screens with pixels and colours that we use to gain information from and they are all temporary in nature. To many of you this must sound like me saying that a tumble dryer is soulless in comparison to a mangle or a new flat screen TV is soulless in comparison to an antique radio, but for those of us who view a watch as something special there is a difference.
Can you name one tool with a practical use that could be 50 years old and yet still perform its function perfectly every day without any intervention at all? A tool with history, provenance and which only goes up in value (both emotionally and financially) the longer you wear it? A tool that becomes so familiar that it would feel like a loss to not have it attached to you. Only a watch ticks those boxes.
And as my time with the Apple Watch grew ever more useful and ever more familiar I knew I had to take it off and force myself to forget about it. I was missing a real watch and verging on the point of feeling as though the Apple Watch was wearing me instead of the other way around. The notifications to move, the little pop ups attempting to motivate me and the insurance that I would never miss any message became too much. Sure I could control them to a point, but the ‘always attached’ feeling grew and grew. You could argue that the Apple Watch is almost too good at what it does and I eventually realised that it was a step too far in terms of where I want to go with technology.
By coincidence I have been reading a book called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Simple ways to Keep the Little Things from Overtaking Your Life and despite its sometimes American ‘you can improve yourself’ nonsense speak there is a lot of very useful information held within it. It looks at focussing on what is important and ignoring the little things that can annoy or that are not important, and within that falls the majority of the information an Apple Watch offers up countless times a day. It has also opened my eyes to how I interact to people and made me realise that I can be a bit of a dick at times, most of the time actually.
Another coincidence was visiting a vintage watch shop with my son and seeing an Omega Calibre 1012 from 1974 for sale, a watch I had been thinking about for some time, but which is not easy to get at a reasonable price. I held back from the purchase because I was wearing the Apple Watch, but it remained in my head for some reason. A few weeks later after some prolonged negotiation with the owner of the store I bought it for £70 less than a new series 5 Apple Watch would cost.
Comparing the two is pointless because most people would see no comparison at all. The Apple Watch is more accurate, it offers multiple complications, it is more customisable (straps etc), it could save my life one day (!) and it does genuinely look quite smart.
None of that matters in any way to me because the aim here is to do less and to be more. As it happens the Omega bears some similarity to the Apple Watch in terms of form, but it has much more style and pleasing little details that make it what it is. When I check the time on the Omega I spend a second longer than I need to because it is such a joy to look at and to wear. The way the bracelet attaches and tapers is an example of near perfect watch design when considering the bracelet uniformity to the watch itself. The fact I never need to do anything because it winds itself is a practical advantage and merely changing the date every other month is hardly a big hassle.
It offers much less than the Apple Watch, but it is so much more and crucially it helps me to step away from continually checking what I am doing for no good reason. In 2020 when technology is used to help us do so much the humble mechanical watch remains a useful tool that does something of great importance- it tells the time. Nothing more, nothing less and in some cases it does so in a way that just makes us feel good and which offers others a sense of what the person is. A sense of style and personality in a world where everyone is wearing the exact same Apple Watch.