The Apple Watch is the most anxiety-inducing device I’ve ever owned

Just let them sit there.
Just let them sit there.
Image: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
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Tap. Tap. Tap.


Before Quartz, I never tended to be someone who bought the first generation of a new product. I usually waited until the kinks were worked out and picked up the second version. But something about the Apple Watch, something that dated back to some of my earliest pop culture memories of watching Dick Tracy with his video watch, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with their Turtle Comms, made me feel like Apple was releasing a piece of technology that was something I’ve been waiting for my entire life. Something that felt like the future. (Also my boss at the time said it was pretty neat.)

So I bought one, and for a few months I loved it. I loved the immediacy of knowing everything as soon as it happened, I loved the activity-monitoring features, and I loved sending exceedingly garbled messages via Siri without having to open my phone. But closing in on a year, I started to become disillusioned with the device to the point where I thought about taking it off—even though I’d spent $350 on it, and far too much on extra watch straps in different colors.

But before I could decide, I started getting dizzy.

About two months ago, I was getting dizzy spells at work, and it started to worry me. I put off going to the doctor and instead spent every spare moment secretly worrying about what was wrong with me. It must be cancer, I thought. Maybe I’ve become diabetic. Maybe it’s Lupus. All of these possibilities would rush through my head in debilitating waves. I would check my Apple Watch and see that my heart rate was spiking and that I also had five new notifications. I finally decided to go to a walk-in clinic, after my more level-headed friends and family told me it was probably an inner-ear infection or allergies or something benign.

At the clinic, I explained how I’d been feeling and the doctor took my blood pressure and heart rate. She was using a pulse oximeter to find my heart rate—the same basic technology the Apple Watch uses to find this out. I showed her that my watch could do this, too. She was not impressed.

I should probably mention that I have a heart condition—something I forgot to tell the doctor.

I was born with a hole in my heart, and had open-heart surgery at about two years old to fix that. I’ve never had any real issues with my heart, but when I was young I had to go to the cardiologist frequently. That’s something I should still be doing, but hadn’t been before this episode.

The doctor didn’t like that my blood pressure and heart rate were both sky high (even though I eventually explained that I’m terrified of going to the doctor and I had a heart condition) and ordered an EKG, to test the electrical activity of my heart. A group of doctors ran the test. And then they were quiet. And then they ran the test again. And then they left the room. I started to feel dizzier.

An older, more senior, doctor came in and asked if I knew if I had a “right branch bundle block” and I said I had no idea. Eventually, we had to get my father on the phone in the UK to contact my doctor back there to send over the last EKG readout I’d had. All the while, I was tweeting about this ordeal and checking the meager likes and responses I was getting on Twitter on my watch.

The doctors convened and decided that I needed an emergency appointment at a cardiologist in New York. But first, they took my blood and ran a few more tests to the point where I could feel the room spinning.

The next day I went to the cardiologist, something I’d avoided doing since before college, for fear that my heart was a hardened, worthless mess, and that I had just days to live.

The doctors ran some more tests, including another EKG, looked at the results from my blood work, and told me that it looked like my heart was in normal working order. The doctor asked me why I was so nervous.

“Because I’m afraid of dying.”

“You’re not dying. At least, not right now anyway. Make sure to invite me to the funeral in 50 years.”

His colleague asked me when was the last time I went on vacation without a laptop. I thought for a second and responded: “2003.”

The doctor told me that I needed to do three things:

  1. Take a vacation without an internet-connected device
  2. Exercise more
  3. Relax

I took the vacation and I left my watch, laptop, and tablet at home. I took my phone, but deleted Slack, my work email, and Facebook. I probably should’ve deleted Twitter too. Although I enjoyed the time off, I never felt rested. But when I got home, and got back into the swing of work, I started to feel better. I wasn’t getting dizzy; I wasn’t feeling weird. So I started strapping my watch back on.

But I kept checking my heart rate, even though the doctor told me I was fine. I kept seeing it spike, or go higher than I thought it should, which drove it up further. I kept getting news alerts for awful things, Facebook alerts about people I haven’t spoken to in a decade, reminders to stand or check-in somewhere or that there was a Starbucks nearby. And my heart rate kept getting higher.

Apple designed the Apple Watch to remove us from the constant bombardment of notifications we get on our cellphones. The Watch was supposed to leave us with just the things we really needed. But that’s hardly how it works.

The watch is strapped to you: The internet never leaves you alone, is symbiotically tied to you, is physically closer to you than some of your appendages. It’s always there, always tapping you.

The Apple Watch is the most anxiety-inducing piece of technology I’ve ever owned. It’s a reminder that a worry is like a notification, which left unchecked, can consume you. For me, it was the heart rate, and a fear that I was neglecting my mortality, the duty to my parents and the doctors who saved my life when I was two years old by not ensuring that I was doing all I could to keep on living. The heart monitor and the watch itself made me feel like a bad son and lazy person and not a hard-enough worker with the constant reminders that I wasn’t moving enough, answering enough messages, or being present.

At its annual developer conference this summer, Apple previewed the next version of the operating system for the Apple Watch. One of the new features it showed off was a function that could remind you to take a minute to breathe every hour, similar to the notification that reminds you to stand at least once an hour. At first I mocked it, and then I read Alex Fitzpatrick’s great piece for Time on why it could be really useful for people with anxiety. Since the conference, it’s been brought to my attention that this is what I’m dealing with. To me this seems like another reminder from the Apple Watch that I’m anxious and should stop being anxious.

There have been many stories, which Apple likes to remind us of at press events, of people saying their Apple Watch saved them, either because they were able to contact someone even though they didn’t have their phone on hand, or because the built-in heart monitor showed them something that looked off and they went to a doctor. For many, the watch is a great addition to people’s lives. But I don’t need the extra baggage anymore.