The Eye of the Storm

Like many, I’ve found my week and life disrupted by the Coronavirus.

First, over the weekend we decided to keep our 60 Decibels New York team working from home for the start of this week, since two of our team members live in Westchester County (which has been leading the nation in total number of Coronavirus cases).  Then I learned late on Sunday night that our school district was closing until March 18th.

One thing I’ve noticed over the past week is that we’re all on different Coronavirus waves. Each wave is separated by a few days or maybe weeks, and each brings with it a different experience of how real, and close, this pandemic is. I expect that what’s going on in Westchester County, where I live, is a lot like what happened in Northern Italy two or three weeks ago, and that what we’re experiencing will soon happen in other parts of the country.

The main thing I’m noticing is nobody seems to really know what’s going on or what to do. This is all new, uncharted territory, and outside of learning how to wash our hands better, everything else—figuring out whether and when to close things down, to practice social distancing or to quarantine ourselves—is a guessing game, especially in the absence of widespread testing.

What I’m personally experiencing is a low-level fog, a sense that there’s something potentially terrible going on out there, with “out there” not that far from home. I think a lot about the math of exponential spread: it would overwhelm our healthcare system and, potentially, cause significant and widespread fatalities. At the same time, I pray that we will look back at this as a crisis averted and learn from it for the future. I’m pretty sure that the best way to avoid the worst scenarios is much broader testing and changes in social behavior to lower the rate of transmission. But what that means in reality, on a national scale, is hard to imagine.

Despite these thoughts droning on in the background, boosted by my Twitter feed, the sun has been out, the early spring days are beautiful, and right now everyone I know is, as far as I know, as safe and healthy as they were last week. It’s all very confusing.

If a preview of having Coronavirus in your community is helpful, here goes. We keep getting drips of messages of closures and cancelations, including from stores and care providers we’ve never heard of.  Everyone who has been “thinking hard” about whether or not to close has closed. Our school’s messaging is broad and vague: there’s no clear plan for how long this will last, whether remote instruction will happen for our kids, and whether this is the start of something that will last much longer.

At each juncture we have no choice but to guess at how to act and what to do. No one has told us that we, or our kids, should stop seeing other people, so do we stop completely? Do we stop sort of? Do we stop not at all? Should we be buying beans and rice and canned goods like crazy, or just shopping normally? And why, of all things, are people stocking up on toilet paper? Is that really our biggest concern?

And, taking a step back, if this is going to be a long haul, will we look back at these early days and think how good we had it? Or will we think “if only we had done more, maybe we could have collectively contained this better?”

I honestly don’t know.

I do I wish that the people whose job it is to take away all this collective guesswork were doing a much better job. Isn’t it easy to take public infrastructure and the public good for granted until we really need it?

Insurance policies are a waste of money until disaster strikes. The ability to attend to collective well-being is quaint, antiquated, even un-American until we are all, collectively, at risk. The need for a functioning healthcare system for all is a politically charged, ideological question until, suddenly, we realize we are all in it together.

My hope is that our public infrastructure and civic leaders step up despite our systematic disemboweling of the public sector, and that our renowned private sector, so adept at saving us one day of delivery time on a pair of sneakers can point its problem-solving ability to a challenge of global proportions.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay positive, and let’s take good care of each other.

Jawbone UP Band – we are what we measure

I recently received a Jawbone UP band as a gift.  It is one of a handful of devices on the market designed to help you live a better, happier, life through measurement.  And who doesn’t love fun with measurement?!

Jawbone UP

The are tons of UP product reviews out there so I won’t take a full stab at that.  In terms of my experience with the UP band, I find it comfortable to wear, reassuringly low-tech (techies grouse that it doesn’t use Bluetooth to synch to your iPhone, I find that somewhat comforting since I’m wearing it 24/7), and I love the fact that the battery lasts for 10 days so I don’t have yet another device to charge daily.

It syncs to my iPhone using the audio (headphone) port which was surprising but which works very well and quickly.  UP’s iPhone software is slick enough, and except for a few minor annoyances (around logging and editing activities) I don’t have any real complaints.  I have already lost the tiny charger – which is hard to find anywhere but online – and people complain about losing the cap at one end of the wristband, thought I’ve managed not to lose mine, yet.

Unlike the Nike Fuelband, Jawbone’s UP band measures both activity and sleep.  Given how structured my days are, I quickly discovered that measuring my activity level (steps taken) has been interesting but has had little effect.  I walk 3.75 miles each day as part of my commute, and I generally move around a good deal while I’m at the office, so while I enjoy seeing the activity information I could soon live without it.

The part that has been more revolutionary is sleep information.  I have no idea of the accuracy of the data, but the UP band tells me how long I’ve slept, how often I’ve woken up (though I’ve found it can’t fully distinguish between asleep and lying in bed with my eyes open), and it gives a minute-by-minute tracking of light and deep sleep.  This has been quite profound, because seeing the feedback on my sleep has taught me how sensitive I am to the amount of sleep I get and how my body does what it can to catch up when I fall behind on sleep (more deep sleep after nights of less sleep).  I can see the effects of just 10 minutes of meditation before bed (better, deeper sleep).  I can see the direct tradeoff I end up making between sleeping and exercising.  And I can no longer trick myself into thinking that missing an hour of sleep, or even a half hour, doesn’t affect me – it does.

Perhaps the most interesting societal part these observations is that while we know that sleep and activity are the two most important ingredients to living a happy and healthy life, it would seem natural to talk about exercising more and hitting a daily 10,000 steps goal (I’m not – I’m usually at around 7,800); whereas boasting that I’m doing a much better job at getting the 7 ½ hours of sleep I need seems odd.  It’s as if being a high-achiever and sleeping enough are somehow at odds, as if acknowledging that I need as much sleep as the next guy is an admission of just a little bit of frailty.

In one of the funniest and most honest interviews I ever read with GE CEO Jeff Immelt, Immelt joked that “If I put my head down at your feet right now, I’d be asleep in 30 seconds. I can sleep anywhere, anyplace, anytime.”  That’s how tiring it was to be the CEO of GE.  These stories abound.  And while I admit to secretly wanting to be the kind of person who can produce at high levels and feel great with 4 or 5 hours of sleep, the truth is I’m not wired that way.

So, while I can’t tell you whether the UP band is better or worse than the Fitbit or the Nike Fuelband as an activity tracker, I will say that I prefer having a device that helps me keep track of how I spend all 24 hours of my day and not just the 16 ½ (or so) that I spend awake.

And it seems pretty clear to me that the next iteration of the smartphone is going to be some sort of wearable device, and I wonder if 10 years from now we’ll all laugh that we had those clunky things in our pockets, as we’ll have devices on our wrists that have all the functionality of our phones and of activity-trackers, and we’ll use glasses or any screen in front of us as visual displays.

In the meantime, sleep well.