I was sitting in the Mackinnon Hall Dormitory common room watching television and trying to decide whether to go to Calculus class in the Johnson Science Building or head over to Dewhurst Cafeteria and have breakfast instead. It wasn’t really that tough a call as I was quite hungry and failing calculus miserably already. Truth be told, I had made my mind up the night before not to attend my Cal I class anymore, but I didn’t want to publicly admit defeat just yet. As I tried to convince two or three of my friends to blow off their first class and join me for eggs, we were watching Good Morning America on a pathetically inadequate 20 inch Sony Trinitron. Most of the broadcast was typical, but there was a special live coverage feature that morning which made a mundane Tuesday Morning a little more interesting. It was Tuesday, January 28, 1986 and NASA was sending a civilian, a school teacher, into space for the first time. I will never forget that day as we watched in horror as the shuttle exploded just moments after lift-off. No one who saw it ever will.
There have been many such moments throughout history that are so indelible that we tend to remember so clearly where we were when we heard the news. 911. The assassinations of JFK, MLK, John Lennon. Mount St. Helens. Waco. Columbine, and many more.
It is a sad indictment on where we are as a society that it seems that, based on the collective reactions of so many people, that we recently experienced another ‘I remember where I was’ moment. It is curious that this latest moment should make the list because no one was killed, no tragedy ensued, and I doubt whether anyone was even minorly injured as a result. The reason we have a new one isn’t really even because so many people were directly affected by it. This one makes the list because so many people complained about it that it seemed to dominate the conversations of so many of us. It seems as though we were entirely consumed by it for a while. Perhaps we can blame Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the mass spread of the comments. It is so easy to let a few million people exactly how you feel about anything whether it is a mundane observation or a cure for a debilitating disease. Social media cannot tell the difference.
Whatever the reason for the sheer magnitude of the outcry and whether or not you believe it was warranted, the fact that Garmin went dark for up to five days pretty much stopped the planet from spinning. For five days it was all anyone with the slightest relationship to Strava or Connect could talk about. This would be ridiculous at the best of times and an immediate reflection of why so much of our modern existence is esoteric and misguided, but considering that the planet is in the midst of trying to get on top of the worst pandemic in modern history, and also that the locus of most of the Garmin complaining, witnessed five of the deadliest days yet, demonstrates that many of us would prefer to live in an alternate, artificial reality. “if it isn’t on Strava, then it didn’t happen”, used to be a funny, innocent joke. For many of us right now it is a reality. Perhaps it is because of the state of the world right now, and in particular the Pandemic, that we seek to lose ourselves in our devices. What happens on Garmin Connect and Strava and Zwift and Rouvy can be defined and analyzed. We can, with a little effort, make sense of what goes on there unlike what we see on CNN and Fox News every day.
To understand a little more how this all happened, it is necessary to break down the reaction to the Garmin crisis into its various stages. From what I can gather (mostly from personal experience) this is how it all played out for many of us.
STAGE 1: “WTF?! Why isn’t this working”. Restart phone. Try again. And again. And again. “Oh well, I’ll try again later”.
STAGE 2: …LATER has arrived. Try again with no success. “This is BULLSHIT!”. Complain to spouse for at least twenty minutes and threaten to no one to purchase an Apple watch.
STAGE 3: Try again before going to bed worried that an entire day of training will end up in some black hole in outer space never to be acknowledged. “SON OF A BITCH!”. It is now time to post hateful messages on Facebook and Twitter.
STAGE 4: Panic begins to encroach upon anger as people start to wonder, “how will the world know that I just ran my 17th fastest time on a segment I created last year that starts at the end of my driveway that no one in the real world cares about anyway? I mean it’s a 72 metre effort after all.
STAGE 5: Full-blown depression. It has been three or four days now and you begin to believe Garmin may be gone for good. You start to actively research Apple and Polar watches secretly wondering if you can remember how to pair a new device to your phone.
STAGE 6: Acceptance. Tension begins to subside as you realise that you don’t have to push it today. Who is going to know anyway?
STAGE 7: Peace. You find yourself enjoying swimming, biking, and running because they are fun, they make you tired and they allow you to escape a mundane world where things like Garmin, Strava, Facebook, and Twitter are relevant. You have all but forgotten to even wear your watch when you exercise.
STAGE 8: FUCK YEAH! GARMIN IS BACK, BABY!!!
As is the case with every aspect of our lives, hopefully we can learn something positive from such a cataclysmic event. For starters, it is clear that Garmin and Strava are fantastic training devices, but we should not become slaves to them. Use them for good. Use them to improve our fitness and not as tools to compare ourselves to ever-moving standards. Also, it is not always necessary to receive outside validation to understand when we have accomplished something special. Kudos are not a matter of life and death. Finally, the numbers we crave are not, ultimately, what is important. What matters is the activity behind them.