Subscriber OnlyPeople

The tyranny of my Apple watch: The notifications are verging on the passive aggressive

Whatever my Apple watch wanted me to do, I’d do uncomplainingly, even though the red flags were there from the beginning

The Apple watch: ‘Even though this relationship doesn’t seem to be doing either of us any good, I can’t quite give her up.’ Photograph: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

It was my colleague Samuel who convinced me I needed a fitness tracker. We were desk neighbours at a job I had a few years ago in Silicon Valley and, though he wasn’t the first person I knew with a Fitbit, he was the first person I knew who was in a full-on relationship with one.

He was also very thin. This was a relatively recent development which, in hindsight, might have had more to do with the bag of cos lettuce he had taken to bringing in for his lunch every day, rather than his early adoption of fitness tracking technology.

I’d watch him, the sound of his crunching drilling inside my brain, as he tapped at the rubber band on his wrist and, through forkfuls of lettuce, sighed happily. Ten thousand steps today, he’d say. Or: 12,000. Eventually: 40,000.

When he had a meeting, he’d set off 15 minutes early and half-walk, half-jog around the campus, craftily notching up an extra 3,000 steps. As I stood jabbing at the button on the lift, I began to wonder whether I was missing something.


I’m competitive about my toys, so a first generation Fitbit wasn’t going to cut it. I got an Apple watch for Christmas that year, and started counting my steps.

Ten thousand steps, it turns out after some research, is both an entirely arbitrary goal chosen by some marketing genius in Fitbit, and quite a lot of moving around.

Love letter

After the writer David Sedaris got his Fitbit, he wrote a kind of love letter to it in the New Yorker, in which he calculated that 10,000 steps was "a little more than four miles for someone my size – five feet five inches. It sounds like a lot, but you can cover that distance in the course of an average day without even trying, especially if you have stairs in your house." Soon Sedaris was doing 15,000. Then 25,000. Then 30,000. Then 65,000. This was very encouraging. I, too, am five feet five inches and I, too, have stairs.

Despite having all those advantages on my side, I never scaled even the lower plains of Sedaris’s achievements. Doubly perplexingly, I never even scaled Samuel’s. I barely ever made it to 10,000 steps. I was averaging about 30,000 steps a week. Sedaris would have that done by breakfast.

But for a year or so, during what I now see as our honeymoon period, I kept trying. Things were good. Whatever my Apple watch wanted me to do, I’d do uncomplainingly, even though the red flags were there from the beginning.

She monitored my movements continuously, sending me reminders – often hourly – that she expected more of me. I complied, mostly: it was easier than dealing with her mute disappointment.

Stand up, she’d say, and I’d obediently stand. You’re so close to meeting your daily move goal, she’d coo. A brisk 10-minute walk should do it.

I’d go to the step between the kitchen and the sitting room, and run up and down it for 10 minutes until she tapped my wrist, signalling that I could stop.

Sometimes, I’d be on my way to bed, and I’d feel the trill on my wrist that means she wants something. My husband frequently encountered me jogging on the spot, while brushing my teeth. Once, he came upstairs to see what the crashing was, and found me doing naked star jumps in the bedroom.

Disappointed spouse

But, as the years have gone by, and I’ve become steadily more inured to her nagging, our relationship has deteriorated. Every week, like the disappointed spouse I feel she has become, she suggests we try again, only with the bar set a little lower.

You met your 280 calorie move goal twice last week, she’ll say, tersely. (She prefers to measure achievements in calories burned than steps.)

She’ll suggest our move goal this week should be 250 calories. You’ll see, I think angrily, setting it back to 280 calories. The following week, she’ll be back with an I-told-you-so. It’s a vicious circle of disappointment, blame and recrimination.

The notifications I get these days are verging on the passive aggressive. You had a great day last Thursday fortnight, she’ll say, through a suppressed sigh. Why don’t you try again? Because you don’t own me, I shout back. Oh my God, stop nagging.

My children look up, a mixture of horrified and impressed. Not Daddy, I say. I’m not talking to Daddy.

Siri? The four-year-old asks, tilting her head sympathetically.

But even though this relationship doesn’t seem to be doing either of us any good, I can’t quite give her up. She’s still on my wrist, running her forlorn commentary on my mediocre accomplishments. I won a December challenge for “reaching your daily stand goal one time in December”. We’re at the praising each other for putting out the bins stage.

Since I don’t work with Samuel any more, I don’t even have my slightly dysfunctional competition with him to propel me on.

In news that may or may not be unconnected, I bought my husband a Fitbit for Christmas. He has taken to texting me screenshots of his daily steps. Day one: 14,207 steps. Day two: 17,937 steps. Day three: 18,790 steps.

Siri, get your coat. We’ve got a date.