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  • Writer's pictureNate Methot

A Gift for Everyone Else

I was gifted a smart watch by my employer. Who doesn’t love a free gift? I was excited at the prospect of something new.

Some of my friends have Apple watches; I’ve seen them discussing their features while I sat silently by. They seem to be geared toward the athlete: tracking your run or bike ride along with your heart rate and whatever other real-time data it can gather. I know I have no use for those kinds of things, but maybe, I thought, there are others I could use.

I think I was the last person I know―at least of my age―to get a smartphone. I remember the Blackberrys at work: all of the managers had them soon after I was hired. My carpool buddy would excitedly explain its virtues: “You can check your email!” Why do I need to check my email? Who’s emailing me? I didn’t understand why I―in my early 20s―would want that. (The same friend later gushed to the rest of the carpool about Twitter. I didn’t get why anyone would want that either. For the most part, I still don’t.)

And then my hands and fingers started misbehaving. More smartphones appeared in the hands of my friends; iPads came out and everyone was pointing and swiping on something. I had an iPod Touch (the touchscreen iPod; it was a gift from my parents, a replacement of the iPod Nano they’d bought me in college), and realized quickly that my thumbs didn’t measure up to the task. I knew a smartphone would be exactly the same.

So, I held onto my old phone with its slide-out keyboard and physical buttons. The buttons were so much easier than a touchscreen. I didn’t make constant mistakes simply by making contact with the wrong letter or icon; I could rest my fingers or thumbs on the buttons, only pressing down when I needed. Using an on-screen keyboard would’ve been infinitely more difficult; it wouldn’t have mattered because I would’ve given up.

I did give in and buy a smartphone eventually―I think it was 2018. As with every other aspect of my life, I tried to adapt my best methods of use. Primarily, it sits flat on a surface as I peck at the screen with my thumb. I can’t realistically hold it in my hand with the screen facing up; I can’t lift it to my ear for a phone call; I can’t hold it delicately and steadily in hand while swinging my thumb to the icon to take a picture. Unless it’s taken with my mouse and the camera that pops out of the top of my monitor, every picture I post is taken by another.

I’ve set up all of my apps at the edges of the screen so I can reach them with my thumbs while my hands rest on the table. Even my password fits the model: the 1, 4, and 7 are all easy reach with my left thumb. And most of the time, it is that left thumb―the right one doesn’t extend; I have to use my knuckle as if it’s a thumb. Unless I’m standing over the phone, and don’t need to lift up my hand so severely, anything in the middle of the screen is far out of reach.

So, what do I do? I lean forward and touch the screen with my nose. I have enough control over my neck and torso to hit the talk-to-text button and then, inevitably, fix the errors that appear on the screen. My neck and core have gotten weaker the last couple years, but I’ve yet to find an alternative method for those hard-to-reach places.

Back to the smartwatch: I plugged in its magnetic charger and downloaded the app. I Googled things like, “What does an Apple watch do?” (Mine is a Samsung―I have a Google Pixel―but I reasoned that it couldn’t be that different and there would be more written about the Apple.) I couldn’t see how any of the features would be of much use, well, except one. My mom (and begrudgingly, I) liked the feature that is designed to detect falls. I haven’t tested it myself, but I believe it’s meant to call for help (9-1-1) if its user is unresponsive (and assumed to be unconscious).

I came to an impasse before I even got the watch on my wrist: I had to decide which one. Despite being nominally right-handed, I do almost everything with my left. My right shoulder began to wither before and more quickly than my left, my right arm mostly sits on my lap or hangs at my side. The problem is, I have only one semi-functional arm: wearing and using a wristwatch requires two. If I put the watch on my right wrist (if I asked my mom to put it on), I could feasibly use my left hand to press its buttons and scroll the touch screen. But my watch would be stuck dangling at the end of a mostly dead arm. If I went with the left wrist, I’d never be able use my right hand for the controls. Either way, I’d surely have to prop my wrist on my lap or a table to hold the watch steady and use it. I couldn’t see any other way.

I asked my mom to try it on right wrist just to see. She pulled the band to its tightest setting, and the watch fit almost perfectly. I was very surprised it wasn’t too big―my wrists are skin on bone. Sitting at my desk with both hands on the surface in front of me―as ideal a circumstance as I’d ever have―I tried to play with my watch. I had a difficult time completing the most basic first step: turning it on. I couldn’t get my finger onto the tiny button, at about two o’clock on the face. Then I couldn’t get the leverage to press it down. My frustrations boiled over almost immediately.

Maybe I should try my left wrist, and use my nose on the screen. Can I lift my left wrist to my face, palm down? I could, but not easily or steadily; it wasn’t a workable solution. What about with my arm on the table, can I bend forward and control the watch with my nose? Of course, I could do that, but why bother with the watch when I could do the same (and much more easily with the vastly larger screen) with my phone? I was running out of ideas.

I asked for its removal and my mom placed it back in its box. I’ll try again later, I told her. And I did, but not really; I’d already given up in my mind. It felt like I’d been gifted a bicycle or tennis racquet, like all of the extra-large event t-shirts I’d received as a kid. A gift for everyone else, but not me.

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