Illustration by Sam Woolley

Once upon a time, inspired by the good works of Kinja Deals, I bought something called a Lumo Lift. It’s a wearable tech. As far as I know, FitBit is both a unique wearable tech and also a genericized trademark for this sort of thing (fit bit). As far as I’m concerned, when I am wearing the Lumo Lift, I am wearing a fit bit. I joined the fit bitters.

This particular fit bit is attached via a magnet to the front of my shirt, in the area of my collarbone, and once activated and properly calibrated, will track my daily activity in very basic terms and will vibrate whenever my upper body posture deviates from a predetermined “correct” state for more than a few seconds. I got it because it was on sale and I was in a mood. Also, my wife gives me endless shit about having bad posture—whenever we cross paths with some ancient person with a very hunched back, she points to this person and says something along the lines of this will be you some day. I am somewhat flattered by this prognostication: Probably I am going to be long dead from a heart attack or stroke before I am old enough for my back to be very bent, but it’s nice to think an attractive woman who has seen me naked thinks I am healthy enough to live to a ripe old age.

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Still, I bought the thing, and I wore it, and it works. The first day or so was pretty jarring. I would be sitting or standing or driving and suddenly my collar would be vibrating and I would snap to attention and have the posture of a drill sergeant, while my car veered terrifyingly into oncoming traffic. I went full Pavlovian in a short enough period of time to be somewhat troubling—after a day or so I was sitting and standing like a drill sergeant at all times, even when it made my back hurt. By God, I will not be buzzed.

There’s also this app on my phone that works with the Lumo Lift to tell me how many hours I have spent sitting and standing with correct posture, and how many steps I have taken in a day. The posture goals are hilariously modest: Four hours per day, which means I can spend roughly 12 waking hours per day slouched like a shitty teen and still achieve compliance. The activity goal is more ambitious: 10,000 steps per 24 hours! Shortly after purchasing the fit bit, I took my dog on an epic walk along the Potomac River, and later that same day spent an hour trudging up and down my long-ass driveway over and over in a depressingly iterative effort to replace my mailbox. I finished the day at just under 7,000 steps, a tally that strikes me as total bullshit, and possibly rigged to make me look bad.

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But! My posture was better. I had genuinely excellent posture when running errands—I was tall and my shoulders were back when I took several overdue bills to the post office; and when I took a detour home in order to navigate my mostly-illegal car around a common speed-trap; and when I walked through a weed-choked and wildly overgrown garden to and then through my faded, dirt-streaked front door, and into my chaotic home; and then when I doubled back through the weed-choked and wildly overgrown garden to my mostly-illegal car to retrieve a portable inflator I’d bought to refill the tire on my wheelbarrow—a new tool that was OBVIOUSLY VERY VITAL to the repair of the old tool, which itself is OBVIOUSLY VERY VITAL to the removing of a not-especially-large pile of debris that had been mucking up and growing roots in my front yard for literally months.

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Even measured against its own modest goals—encouraging activity and good posture—this Lumo Lift’s standard of success is laughably low: If I spend just one quarter of every waking hour sitting or standing with correct posture, I will meet my daily goal, which, it turns out, is a thing I was mostly doing anyway, in brief little accidental episodes between default periods of lazy slouching. Probably everyone does this! To say nothing of the fact that its utility relies completely upon me providing it with an honest daily calibration. I could just slouch during calibration and game that little fucker all day long. Or, for that matter, I could be calibrating it according to an outdated, possibly dangerously faulty concept of correct posture—like, say, drill sergeant posture—and meet my goals while doing near-constant and long-term harm to the health and stability of my lower back. I should probably hurl this thing into a dumpster, now that I think about it.

But where the Lumo Lift really looks silly is up against the incredible mountains of baked-in, calcified, more-or-less definitional personal dysfunction that make up the real barriers between my current self and my ideal self. In every important sense, what this thing does is tell me who I have been in recent history. The most obvious way that it does this is by telling me how long I have already stood with correct posture. Even at its best and most useful, when it buzzes it merely tells me how long I have recently stood with incorrect posture. Importantly, whatever happens after that notification is entirely up to me, the wearer—if I am motivated to change my posture, I will. If I am willing to endure a mildly uncomfortable state of existence, I might eventually decide to ignore it altogether until it buzzes itself out of battery power.

But why would you continue wearing it, in that case? Yes, that is a question. After all, I bought the thing—if I’m just going to ignore it, that would make it a stupid purchase. Consider, though, the kind of person whose quest for a better, healthier lifestyle includes the purchase of a wearable tech whose sole function is to buzz and annoy the wearer when they are sitting or standing poorly. Probably what has kept this person from having this ideal lifestyle during all the years before they finally purchased this thing was not that they did not have a shirt collar that was sufficiently technologically advanced—probably the fact that they would even require a shirt collar with spatial awareness and limited powers of locomotion in order to sit up straight means that clarity of purpose, attention, and self-motivation in the specific realm of physical well-being are areas of some dysfunction.

Besides, purchasing the thing, I’m sad to report, does not signify what you want it to signify—that you are ready to be a healthier, more active person—in the same way that purchasing a pound of broccoli does not signify that your are ready to eat a healthier diet. This is a hard, shitty truth, but here it is: You will know you are ready to eat a healthier diet when you are already eating the broccoli. You will know you are ready to be a healthier, more active person when you are already doing whatever your version of that is. The less obvious way the Lumo Lift’s function is historical is this: In dark moments, it reminds me that I needed a goddamn piece of machinery to convince me to sit up straight.

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This is the basic bullshit of wearable techs. Unless or until you are ready to do the thing the fit bit measures, all the fit bit will do is tell you what you already know, which is that you are a lazy sack of crap.

How do I know this? Well, I bought the house, and it is a chaotic mess with a faded, dirt-streaked front door. I bought the land, and the garden is a vine- and weed-choked disaster area. I bought the car, and it is now mostly illegal. The Lumo Lift won’t distract you from the truth of what all these various purchases are: attempted points of entry into the world of whole, functioning adulthood. I will own and maintain land becomes well at least I will maintain an orderly home, which is not unlike I will at least be able to travel from here to there without accruing a fortune in fines and penalties, until, down the line, after you’ve already tried I will find a way to transport some sticks 30 feet across my own yard, and even I will put some goddamn air into a goddamn flat tire sometime in the next six months, you arrive at this new, saddest possible point of reference: Now that my shirt is battery-powered and operational, I will be able to sit up straight. If anything, wearing the Lumo Lift will bring the dismal trajectory of this progression into stark relief.

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This is where a good pharmaceutical regimen will come in handy. Perhaps working in concert with the fit bit, the inflator, the wheelbarrow, the trip to the post office, and some future visit with the DMV, the pharmaceuticals will have you finally upright, in every possible sense of the word. Here’s what I’m getting at: They have not conjured a pharmaceutical, nor have they fashioned a tool, nor have they written a book, nor have they invented an app, nor have they invented a fit bit, that will cure a person’s basic, all-encompassing neurosis, and the decades of habits and concessions and defenses and coping mechanisms built onto and around it. The Lumo Lift will not suddenly grant you a healthier lifestyle. Not even close. If you were hoping your fit bit was going to make you the sort of person who has Rock Hard Abs, I’ve got some bad news.

But! What the Lumo Lift will do is buzz when I spend a full minute slouched forward. It will do that today, because today I found it sitting on its cute little charger on a bedside table otherwise crushed with books and papers, and remembered once having purchased it, for some damn reason. Today I calibrated it honestly, and today I will make an effort to sit and stand upright, because today is one of those days when the crude and neurotic pursuit of self-improvement seems better than the crude and neurotic habit of self-contempt. The Lumo Lift perhaps grants me some healthy, productive direction for that glimmer of motivation, and that is a movement of The Needle. And that’s not nothing! Later, my wife will glance up on my third straight hour of playing video games from an ottoman in my chaotic living room, and comment on my good posture, and that will feel pretty good.

Attaboy, Lumo Lift.