The Jawbone Up and me

After a week or so wearing the Jawbone Up I suddenly realised I had started to develop some rather unusual habits. For one thing, I’d taken to swinging my arms rather more than usual when I walked. If I had a bag to carry I’d put it in my left hand so my right hand could swing all the more freely. That odd man walking around Maida Vale with carrying an inordinate number of carrier bags in his left hand, swinging his right arm wildly, yes, that was me.

IMG_20130519_142353 copy

I also seemed to be waking up slightly earlier than usual and waiting, slightly paranoid, for the wristband’s alarm function to start vibrating, my drowsy brain trying to work out what kind of movements would persuade it that it was time to rouse me.

I’m pretty sure these aren’t the kinds of habits the Up is supposed to inspire. Indeed, as part of the new and growing fad of wearable tech, the Up’s tagline is “Know yourself, Live Better”: the objective is to nudge you into living healthier, sleeping better.

Essentially (and I’m sure the people at Jawbone, who kindly sent me one to look at, don’t put it quite like this), the Up is a glorified pedometer. You wear it on your wrist; it measures the number of paces you take; when you sleep it measures how much you’re moving around; and in the morning it wakes you up during a pre-determined timeslot, detecting from your movements when you’re in light, rather than deep, sleep.

Every now and then you plug the thing into the earphone socket of your smartphone and it syncs up with it, telling you how much you’re sleeping and how many paces you’re taking. Apparently since I started using it three weeks ago I’ve covered 127km and slept 123 hours.

What I’m not quite sure of yet is what to do with that information. I don’t think I’m taking any more exercise than I was beforehand, nor am I sleeping any longer. From my perspective the main advantage of the Up is having an alarm clock that wakes me without making too much noise. The problem is that occasionally it seems to misfire, vibrating at random moments rather than when I expect it to go off – which I guess is why I’ve been waking up early, wondering whether it’s about to go off, or whether it’s having another mercurial day.

Having said all of that, I am still wearing the Up today, and see little harm in wearing it in the future. The problem is that it doesn’t really do as much as I’d like it to do. For instance, I’d rather like to have a wearable device with GPS so I can take it on runs and get genuine tracking of pace/distance etc without having to carry my phone with me. I’d like something which measures heart rate and temperature, both body and environmental. Happily I think those kinds of sensors aren’t all that far away. The Basis, for instance, is a watch with a heart rate monitor and all kinds of sensors that measure stuff like that.

As John Lanchester writes in the latest London Review of Books, the apotheosis of this is the Google Glass, a pair of glasses with a camera, primitive computer and display built in. One of his key concerns is the fact that you can record videos of people without them knowing. I’m less worried about this (I’m sure if society has a problem with this then pretty soon governments or regulators will shame Google into installing a light that makes it pretty obvious you’re recording anything), and more interested in the potential for exercise.

For instance, I’d rather like to have a heads-up display showing me how far I’ve run. If I could hook the Glass up to an external camera it could make for an excellent rear-view mirror when I’m cycling (I currently use a Reevu helmet for this but it’s inexplicably been discontinued).

The problem, and there’s no getting away from this, is that by any standards you look like an awful geek when wearing Google Glass. Just, really, really sad. I’m sure in the fullness of time we’ll become inured to them, but then they probably said that about Bluetooth headsets too.