Before I begin talking about this new, high-tech invention called the Lumo Lift, I must explain my affliction — an affliction that has haunted me most of my adult life, one that I've never been able to escape.
I'm a chronic sloucher. I don't know how it happened, I don't know how I got this way, but somewhere, probably in grade school, my body began to form a letter "S" when seen in profile. I blame my height — 6-foot-2 at attention — and a fitness regimen that involved lifting weights since I was in high school. Big shoulders and upper body combined with a relatively skinny, tall frame equals slouching. Gravity is a cruel mistress to tall people.
I've always known I was a sloucher, too, and looked upon the lucky ones with good posture as heroes who somehow managed to beat the odds to stand up straight. Even to this day, I admire when I see someone standing shoulders-above-hips-above-ankles. At a recent rock concert, I noticed a young girl who couldn't have been older than 22, sitting on a bar stool perfectly erect, not a curve to her spine, effortless.
I turned to my wife and said, "Look at her." She knew immediately I was pointing out the girl's amazing posture. So amazing, in fact, that the girl stood rigid without so much as a slumped shoulder for more than an hour.
"She's probably a dancer," Teresa said, "or into yoga."
My friend Julie is tall, almost as tall as me, and I've never seen her slouch. I asked her how she did it.
"I think about it all the time," she said. I assumed she was kidding. "I'm not kidding. I'm thinking about it right now. If I didn't think about it constantly, I'd be slouched over, like you."
Her strategy was based on sheer will power, mind over matter, and it had been enough. I tried attacking my slouching with the same strategy. I discovered online an idea from a fellow sloucher. He said to imagine there was a balloon tied to your head, pulling you upward. It seemed so simple, but immediately upon taking on the self-delusion, my frame straightened. Whenever I walked through the hallways at work, above me floated an imaginary red balloon, and people noticed.
"You're standing tall today."
"Well, there's a balloon tied to my head," I'd reply matter-of-factly. The comment was usually met with a tilted head, not unlike what my dogs do when I make strange cat noises.
But the balloon works only as long as you remember it's there. Somehow within just a few minutes after being imagined, the balloon floats away, leaving me bent over like a prehistoric cave man in a sports jacket.
If my posture is horrendous while standing, it's even worse sitting at my desk. I always start out fine, but within an hour my butt has slid all the way to the edge of my chair and I look as if I'm about to slide under my keyboard. It would take an imaginary blimp to keep me sitting up straight.
I'd all but given up on my posture, even considered buying a back brace or wearing a corset like a Victorian woman, when I discovered a crowdfunding campaign that promised the answer. The campaign's video said it all, if not a bit over dramatically. It starts by showing a cute woman slouching (barely) while seated alone. Poor thing. Over gentle keyboard music, the voice-over began:
"What would you if you were not afraid? Would you stand a little taller? Speak a little louder? Would you run a little faster? Would you live in the moment?" The camera focuses on a tiny square attached to the girl's shirt. "This is Lumo Lift. You wear it like a lapel pin. When you slouch it reminds you to stand taller with a gentle vibration."
The device also tracks your steps, calories and distance, like any of a dozen other Fitbit-type wearables, but who cares about that. It's the slouching thing that mattered. Through this miracle of science, the poor girl was suddenly smiling, getting serious attention at important meetings and embracing a newfound boyfriend who, one assumes, had ignored her when she was a bent-over crone.
"The simple act of pulling back your shoulders and lifting your head helps you look and feel stronger, taller and more confident," the video concludes. "We believe it's the small changes that empower you to do bigger and better things. Be the version of you that you want to be. One move changes everything."
I plunked down my $69 for the pre-order this past January and was not alone. The campaign quickly exceeded $1 million in funding. It seems there's a virtually army of us slouchers, searching for any sign of hope.
It was only last week that the product finally arrived at my doorstep. It consisted of a small white device about the size of an iPod shuffle, a charging cradle and a pair of sleek, dime-sized metal magnets that hold the device in place. I quickly downloaded the Lumo Lift app for my iPhone and was ready to go.
Three minutes into my first "coaching" session I got my first "buzz."
The message on my phone: "Show that buzz who's boss!"
I straightened up. The app responded with the affirmation: "Looking good, feeling great!" and "You're a rockstar!"
I intend to wear my new Lumo Lift all next week while on vacation. Will I return from New York City empowered to do "bigger and better things"? Will I, indeed, not be afraid to "live in the moment" or am I doomed to live my life in the shape of the letter "S"? Check back next week to find out.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at email@example.com.