Suddenly, without warning: Up

Jawbone Up

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed an odd trend. I’ve started seeing Jawbone Up wristbands popping up all over the place. For about a month or two it seemed like there were exactly 5 people in Australia (all of them tech journos) with one, and then BAM—suddenly they were everywhere.

I’m by no means immune; I got one too, and have been wearing it for about 3 weeks. But at the end of the day, I’m kind of wondering why. I think maybe it’s got something to do with nerd vanity, and it makes me feel a little weird.

Know thyself

So what does it do exactly? Well, it’s a tracking & fitness band. It purports to count your steps, and monitor your sleeping patterns. It comes with a bright, fluid companion app (on iPhone & Android right now), that looks like this.

As well as sleep & steps, it can also monitor your food intake, mood, and exercise, though all these things have to be manually entered, or pulled in from other apps. But for those who like to log data about themselves & use it for good, it can be a great way to combine disparate health apps into a single stream.

When you sign up for the app, it says something incredibly schlocky, to the effect of “Congratulations, now you’re living Up!” The day I bought mine, I signed up to the app whilst staring over a large plate of nachos and thought, “Hmm, I wonder if this will encourage me to eat healthier? Is visibility accountability? Can I log my way to a better me?”

That night, I had takeaway pizza & 5 beers. It was the weekend, after all.

Device as function

So the thing that really intrigued me about the Up is not so much the health aspect; it’s more the idea that passive devices can be more than jewellery. That wearable objects can start to collect data about the way we (and even our pets) live our lives. This feels like the beginning of something much bigger in technology.

You know that gut feeling you have when you think about Google Glass? It’s like a mix of disgust and excitement. You instinctively know it’s dorky, appears incredibly limited in what it can do & looks awkward as hell perched on someone’s head. But it also feels like the start of something really big and new.

I get that same feeling about the Up.

Wristband as vanity

Device as fashion

Here’s the other thing about the Up, and this is actually kind of difficult to write about. It’s vanity. It’s that outward symbol to the world, however subtle, that you’re on top of things in technology. You’re a nerd. It’s the wristband version of a t-shirt with an obscure TV show reference printed on it.

You remember back when the iPhone first came out in the US and people were importing them into Australia? I took the bus to work at the time, and you’d see a sea of white iPod earbuds everywhere. Then, you’d glimpse one person with the little white clicker on the right earbud. That little sign—that small marker that something was different—they didn’t have an iPod after all, they had an imported iPhone in their pocket.

You’d see theirs, and they’d see yours, and you’d both give a knowing nod to each other.

I can’t think of another good word to describe it. It’s nerd vanity. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. I’m sure lots of other people thought about it too.

is it OK to wear a gadget for fashion? For that knowing nod?

Thankfully, Yves Behar knows what he’s doing and the Up actually looks really nice on your arm. I don’t know if it’s even wrong to wear a gadget for fashion, but it makes me feel a little uneasy regardless.

Keeping Up

I might sound like I’m really down on the Up at this point (pardon the pun). I’m not. I am definitely going to stick with it, because it’s easy to use, it looks good and I like it.

It also has an alarm built-in that silently buzzes to wake you up in the morning, which is very cool and practically useful to me in a way that the health data isn’t right now.

Passive data logging is wonky though; the usefulness compounds exponentially as time goes on. 6 months of data is much more interesting & useful than a few scant weeks. A year doubly so. I think future James would appreciate being able to see that information.

Now, speaking of future James, where’s my plate of nachos?

Reckoner had its humble beginnings way back in June of 2013.

Founded by James Croft, along with Peter Wells and Anthony Agius they created what would go on to become one of Australia’s most highly regarded and award winning independent tech blogs.

With its uniquely Australian voice Reckoner is committed to offering a “no-holds-barred” approach to its writing. Beholden to no one but its audience. Reckoner’s goal is to remain completely transparent and honour the trust it’s built with its faithful readership.

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