The curious case of a wearables cynic and his enduring fat bastardry

Let’s get physical, physical

Still from Olivia Newton John's Let get Physical vid. Copyright 1981 Geffen Records

Something for the Weekend, Sir? I owe everything to a quick one off the wrist.

This was not always the case. Previously, my attempts at achieving a rhythm would frequently slip, causing it to get out of hand. But now with a firm grip on the matter and lots of practice, I’ve really begun to shake things up, good and proper.

I feel sure plenty of readers are sharing this experience with me right now, at home with their families or at work in among their colleagues.

So, you may ask, why did I buy a fitness smartwatch in the first place?

After all, a cursory glance at some of my old columns would tend to reveal a hint of disdain for the entire wearable tech industry. And now here I am, singing the praises of a Fitbit.

My problem with wearable tech is that it’s a fad, a mere novelty in a never-ending line of consumer distractions with which to hinder humans from thinking and rising up in revolution against their lizard-faced Illuminati overlords.

Usually these electronic novelties begin as a bright idea for making an insignificant element of everyday life a teensy bit more convenient, get dramatically overhyped for a while, then deflate back to sensible use when peripheral tech eventually catches up to give them purpose.

Consider the infra-red TV remote control. When this first appeared in Britain, it was hilarious. It was a completely unnecessary device for remotely controlling the two functions: switching TV channel and adjusting the audio volume.

Given that we had only three TV channels and the analogue audio was perfectly consistent between them, unlike the whisper-to-a-scream variance between modern digital channels, a TV remote control was generally considered a luxury gadget whose price far outweighed any purported benefit.

Outweighed is the word. Remote controls made us even fatter, and obesity has since become the number-one cause of early death in the West. From that point onwards, remote controls began wiping us out.

Youtube Video

The Fatboys and the Beach Boys Wipeout (C) 2010 Uncle Louie Music Group

Naturally, we all wanted one.

It didn’t take long for every electronic product to be offered with a remote control, regardless whether using one made any sense, from radio sets to kitchen utensils. I swear I saw one being sold with a vacuum cleaner.

I do remember some Chinese Walkman-knockoff “personal hi-fis” in the early 1990s that came with remote controls. Think about it: you’d be using a remote control not to operate something across the room but a device you’re already carrying on your person, typically clipped to your belt. In terms of “remote”, we’re talking a distance of barely six inches.

Remind you of anything, Apple Watch owners?

It made even less sense at a time when device interfaces sported physical buttons and dials that were skilfully conceived to have tactile surfaces and distinguishable shapes, easily recognised by fingertip so you never had to look.

One of my favourites of the era was a remote control that operated the light switches in your house. A light switch, ladies and gentlemen, is already a remote control. In effect, they were selling us a remote control to operate another remote control: possibly the ultimate in consumer durable futility.

This fabulous remote-controlled lighting concept has re-emerged in recent years, of course, with smart lighting in smart homes for smart arses.

To fool you into believing the whole process is not utterly ridiculous, they’ve relocated the light switches from the wall and built them into the lightbulbs themselves, where you can no longer conveniently reach them. Brilliant. Now you have to use an expensive wireless remote control system operated from your expensive smartphone simply to turn the fucking lights on. Such is progress.

For all but the poorest of us, our homes are now littered with a variety of remote control handsets. Some are broken, some you can’t remember what they’re for, all of them hideously designed to look like a Giger-conceived robot cheese grater from Hell.

But for the TV with its 300 channels, red button sub-channels, P-in-P functions, wide-range audio options and slower-than-Ceefax text services, the remote control finally makes sense. It’s immeasurably more convenient to operate a modern TV from your sofa than by repeatedly punching two identical rubberised buttons on the front of the set itself, not to mention any set-top-box, to navigate 42 levels of on-screen menu with its three million permutations.

That is to say, the devices we’re controlling have finally evolved to meet the needs of their remote controls.

I suspect the same will happen with Internet of Things, once we can move past the present-day splurge of diddy robots, OCD fridges and, yes indeed, remote-controlled “autonomous” vacuum cleaners. IoT won’t always be the mindless consumerist crap it is at the moment.

And so it is with wearable tech, with most manufacturers and software developers in this field now mostly concentrating on health-tracking applications. While Apple finds itself struggling to sell its do-everything watches, the much cheaper and less fragile smart health-band market seems to be doing quite nicely.

This is because health-tracking wearables have a purpose and they work. I write this from personal experience, having bought a half-price Fitbit Charge in a stock clearance at my local PC World at the end of April.

Why did I buy it? Well, between you and me, it was purely for its silent vibrating alarm. I wanted an alarm clock that wouldn’t wake Mrs D at 4am. The health stuff was just a faddish extra as far as I was concerned.

As fellow owners will already know, these devices contain a three-dimensional accelerometer to track motion and intensity of motion, plus an altimeter for elevation. I just give it my gender, age and height, and then it guesstimates my calorie usage during the day according to my general activity.

Essentially, it’s a trumped-up pedometer that keeps a record of when I move about.

All I have to do is remember to remove it while brushing my teeth, scrubbing my boots or indulging in onanism, otherwise it thinks I’ve completed a 5km individual fun run (which is as splendid a euphemism for a wank as you’re going to get all week).

Also, I use its associated smartphone app to enter details about all the cakes with which I stuff my face, using its massive online calorie-content database. Entering this is such a pain in the arse that it works as a deterrent: faced with the prospect of having to fill out an onerous calorie intake form, it always seems so much easier simply not to eat those cookies in the first place.

As other health-band wearers will know, the other downside is having to wear the bloody thing. It’s like being on day-release from prison or being the subject of an Asbo… er, or so I imagine.

Anyway, I started off as a cynic and became a convert, like a particularly annoying and self-righteous ex-smoker.

For the record, over the three months since I bought the Fitbit, I have lost 10kg.

For older readers, 10kg is roughly 1.5 stone. For American readers, that’s 22 pounds. For Brexiters, it comes to around 4 groats, 13 furlongs and sixpence.

I’m aiming to lose another 7kg before the winter and put a definitive end to my years of burgeoning fat bastardry. As you’d expect from a bore, I’ll keep you updated.

Youtube Video

Olivia Newton-John's Physical. (C) 1981 Geffen Records

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. Unlike most fitness bores, he has absolutely no intention of prolonging his life. With both parents in dementia homes, he sees no benefit in living long but in living well. And his current definition of living well is being able to wear skinny jeans without crying.

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