It’s 10 steps from my office to the closest bathroom; 99 steps to the furthest bathroom. Roughly 3,341 steps from my front door to my office, and most frequently 35 from my kitchen to washing machine. Yes, I have a Fitbit.
In the mid 1980s my cousins and I paraded across the kitchen floor, wearing our grandparents’ pedometer, a machine roughly the size and design of a post office timestamp. A loud click poorly documented every other step or so. Fast forward some twenty years and I’m outside my classroom with a yardstick measuring a colleague’s footsteps. Her average gait is 25 inches compared to my 22.5. We’re both wearing bulky pedometers that eat the same batteries as hearing-aides. But 4,217 steps later we can see most of the San Fernando Valley nestled under a hazy marine layer. Below Fryman Canyon our jobs as high school English teachers, cell phones, and cars wait while we talk about our families, what we’re reading, our childhood— anything we don’t have to fact check.
Given my historical love affair with pedometers, it’s easy to believe I was an early adapter of the Fitbit. Not so. Across a glass of wine my sister-in-law introduced me to the Fitbit and its ability to track sleep patterns. Instantly my stomach churned at the truth of that graph. I’d had two children about two years apart, and my son has medical needs which require several nighttime wakings for treatment. Why would I want to know what I know?
Why would I want to know what I know? Now that I’ve had a Fitbit (not the kind that tracks sleep) for a few months I think the answer is more simple: I knew what I knew, so what do I do about it? Reports about longevity being linked to standing, not sitting: treadmill desks, and 10,000 steps or 4 miles per day permeate the news. No surprise there. We should move more than not.
My great-grandfather was a salesman for an orchard. In the fall he’d walk the some 90 mile loop from Blackwater to Jonesville to Abington, Virginia to collect orders for fruit trees from families along the way.
In the early spring he’d make the same journey, this time with a horse and cart, to deliver the saplings. Sometimes he’d sleep in a barn and sometimes the guest bedroom, other times under a tulip poplar.
He’d make the journey several times each season. He said the best part of his journey was talking with the people along the way and walking mountain trails.
He died on Christmas day in 1964, and he never learned to drive a car.
Let me be clear, I’m not romanticizing the past. It was really, really hard. My great-grandfather never got to see the ocean. He only walked in three states: Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. He’d probably laugh at the notion of counting steps.
Nor was the past simpler. Consider the tomato. You could watch the weather as winter passes, plant seeds, water, weed (repeat), stake, harvest, and preserve tomatoes or you can go to the store, buy a can of tomatoes and use a can opener. Something is gained; something is lost. One tool does not replace, but half-heartedly replicates another. Stay with me, dear reader: the Fitbit is a canned tomato disguised as a garden. This little device that’s sticking its tongue out at me is at once ease, information, motivation, and reflection.
It’s not lost on me that an introspective tool like the Fitbit cudgels me to select the parking space furthest away from an entrance or take my children to the local park instead of stream a TV show after dinner. I know how many steps it is to the furthest bathroom and for that reason I’m equally as likely to text a friend to see if she wants to go on a walk. For me the Fitbit is about mindfulness and accountability. A fancy pedometer and dongle connect me to information and friends, but I’m also disconnected as I walk around the neighborhood and look at my neighbors’ gardens.
The future perfect tense allows us to imagine something that will continue up until a particular event or time in the future, after which a task will be completed. For example, by the end of most days, it’s likely that I will have walked to school or work, taken the stairs, or talked with a friend while walking. At the start of his 90 mile journey, my great-grandfather knew he’d be home on the fourth night unless he stayed an extra night to help a family with planting or swap a story from the other side of the ridge. The assured ability to look ahead and know something will have happened is worth every step, whether it’s counted or not.
Rachel Morgan is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She teaches at the University of Northern Iowa and is the Assistant Poetry Editor for the North American Review. Her work recently appears or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Fence, Denver Quarterly, Barely South, Mid-American Review, DIAGRAM, Volt, and Hunger Mountain. She lives in Iowa with her husband, son, and daughter.