So, my phone pinged this morning with a message from my Fitbit, informing me that my cardio fitness is ‘Excellent for a man of your age’. That’s good news, I thought, until I started to consider the clarifying clause – for a man of your age. I wonder whether the clever little algorithm has taken into account the fact that I am incapable of being a man of any other age? I couldn’t help thinking that it could just as well have said ‘Excellent, for a sedentary oaf,’ or ‘Excellent for a man who is just about to have a coronary.’ It means nothing. It tells me nothing except, possibly, that it could be worse. It is actually difficult to think of a sentence that cannot be qualified in such a way: ‘He’s really tall for his height,’ ‘She’s really plain for a supermodel,’ ‘He’s really funny for an Estate Agent,’ – an adjunct that renders the rest of the sentence meaningless. Like a politician’s promise. Like a Kremlin denial.
Furthermore, I then started to fret about why my little Spy Watch felt it necessary to impart this particular piece of information anyway. It is true, I do have a tendency to press things willy nilly, not at all certain of what they do – it adds spice to a colourless life – possibly I inadvertently invited it to confide in me. Possibly it did not decide for itself to let me in on its secret. Maybe the faceless Chinese (I presume) coder decided that bad news had to be sugar-coated. Maybe the likely alternative – if I was no more than 50 – would be a blue-light trip to the ICU, but at my age, what’s the point?
In normal times I get an annual once-over from the doctor. This involves numerous phials of blood being siphoned from my enfeebled arteries and sent for analysis – to ascertain that the drugs, indeed, do still work. The resultant Middle-Aged Talking-To that I receive from the doctor always involves the phrase, ‘Stats are all good for you,’ which I take to mean that for anybody else they would not be. This, I do not find reassuring. The two appended words are something akin to a medical cop-out codicil. A kind of iatrical way of saying ‘Don’t you wish you were somebody else? Readings like this and, if you were not you, we would be putting you on a drip.’ I emerge from the surgery a shadow of the man who entered.
This year, I have not yet been summoned – presumably the threat of me contracting/spreading Covid, trumps all the other maleficients queuing up to take me under. I’m pretty certain that my prostate, for instance, is not aware that it is no longer being monitored, but it’s hard to be sure. Are glands capable of sentient thought? The brain sits above all nerve connections, so I can concede the possibility of it handing down info. Not an instruction exactly, just a tip of the wink. ‘Nobody’s watching you. Playtime!’ Anyway, just in case my blood pressure is reading this – I’ve got my eye on you. I have one of those little electronic monitors which I use as regularly as my memory allows, but it stresses me out. By the time I have connected the cuff to the machine, got the cuff on the right way round, worked out how to use the Velcro, I am as tight as a drum. With the pressure inside of me, I could probably hold my own at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
At least the sphygmomanometer is a fairly straightforward measurer of fact. It tells me what my blood pressure is. It does not have the Artificial Intelligence to make value judgements. It does not say, ‘Hi,’ (McQueen’s Law of Artificial Intelligence: All AI devices begin by saying ‘Hi’ before they become patronising) ‘your blood pressure today is 120/80 which is ok for a lardarse. Now, why don’t you try and do something with your life that does not involve lying down and eating crisps?’ No doubt, if I bought a newer one, it would. The level of oversight we are allowing technology is becoming alarming. My mobile has just ‘pinged’ in order that it can advise me of my daily usage and whether it feels that I should cut down on my screen time. I can’t help but wonder how much time I would actually have to spend staring at my mobile before it felt that it was all too much. Presumably when I start to interfere with its work/life balance. Rather like asking bookmakers to monitor the issues of problem gamblers, I do somewhat question the motivation. Mostly the poacher only turns gamekeeper because it saves him laying his own traps.
Anyway, if you are at all interested, my phone usage is actually fine – for a man of my age.
The photo at the top was originally from the piece Newspeak – The Curse of the Smart Phone – which is here. The quote on the phone is from George Orwell.