My Apple Watch Turned Me Into A Workout Troll

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
If you were to look at the iMessage history between my former roommate and me, you would think we are a bunch of jerks who also seem to really love dog photos. The majority of messages we've exchanged since she moved out to Chicago for her med school residency are bot-generated smack talk replies from the Apple Watch Activity app, like:
"That'll be good for ?."
"Now you're showing off. ?"
"Oh no you didn't. ?"
"Wish I was you."
Here's some context for non-Apple Watch users: When you use the watch's Activity app, you have the option to share your stats (including workouts, plus how long you're moving and standing during the day) with your contacts. When a friend completes a workout, you receive a notification about the type and duration of the workout, and the watch automatically prompts you to reply with a message. Or, when a friend closes an activity "ring," meaning they stand, move, and exercise for a period of time during the day, you have the opportunity to congratulate them. You could say nothing, but the messages are kind of hilarious.
From the jump, this has been kind of an inside joke between the two of us. My roommate and I have laughed at some messages like "GMAB," which apparently means "give me a break," and a personal favorite, "Don't hurt yourself." When I get a notice that she closed all of her activity rings from standing and walking around the emergency room saving lives all day, I like to send a blatantly sarcastic, "Unimpressed."
But jokes aside, this silly Apple Watch feature has been a way that we keep in touch. My roommate and I used to go on runs, or do Tone It Up workouts together at the gym, but now that we no longer live under the same roof, these little messages are all we've got. Same is true for other far-flung friends and family members I don't necessarily talk to all the time; I like seeing when and how they're working out at different times during the day. Picking up the phone to text someone is hard, so I appreciate Apple Watch's voyeuristic nudging.
This might sound mean, but I would not say I am a competitive person at all, rather, I hate competing because I hate the prospect of losing, and the Activity app on the Apple Watch seems to bring this out in me. With the latest Apple Watch software that came out in September, watchOS5, Apple launched a competition feature that allows you to challenge friends over the course of the week, to see who can close the most Activity rings. I've challenged a few of my friends, but funny how no one has accepted me yet. I really, truly don't care how much my friends work out or who works out the most, because we are all so different. But, seeing when and how my friends work out, and replying to it, lights a fire under me.
Studies suggest that there's something to this phenomenon that I've observed anecdotally: A 2016 study found that people are more likely to exercise when they receive competitive messages from their peers, versus "social" ones. It sounds sad and screwed up at first, but it's super interesting. According to the study authors, competition encourages people to set goals with one another, which gives people higher expectations for their own levels of performance. In other words, competition with others can make you focus more on yourself, which is definitely a good thing.
Of course, this could go both ways. I definitely don't think the wise thing to do is turn us all into troll bots who mock one another's workouts and physical activity. Also, the way that the Apple Watch Activity app displays calorie counts (which, by the way, do not paint the full picture of health at all) in comparison to your friends, could be triggering for some people who have a history of disordered eating. To that same note, hearing people humblebrag about their workouts can feel like a personal attack. Luckily, you have the option to keep your activity stats private, so you don't have to share or see anything if you don't want to.
At the end of the day, exercise should be a joyful experience that makes you feel good — not shamed — about your body or activity level. And for me, sharing my stats with a supportive loved one who I trust to make me laugh with silly messages adds a layer of fun that my workouts were otherwise missing.

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