The Metal Badge of Courage


This the second part of a two-part column about the back-straightening technology called the Lumo Lift. Pt. 1 appeared in the Sept. 4 issue of The Reader.

After a couple weeks wearing the Lumo Lift, my impression is the technology is (probably) worth the price of admission for chronic slouchers such as myself who want nothing more than a reminder to stand up straight.

Because that’s all the technology really is. It’s like having your mother walk behind you all day, telling you to “straighten up.” It’s an all-seeing camera tracking your every slouch. It’s your very own personal electronic Henry Higgins transforming you into a fully erect Eliza Doolittle. 

My first misperception: I thought the device would constantly “buzz” whenever I slouched, but that feature only works when the Lumo Lift is in “coaching” mode, a feature which can be set to anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour at a time. Otherwise, the device merely monitors your behavior, and like any technology, reports how good or bad you’re doing via Bluetooth to your smartphone.

Just open the app and read your report: “Your posture’s been SLOUCHY since 10 a.m.,” it scolds, or, if you’ve been a good soldier, “Your posture’s been REMARKABLE since 10 a.m.” 

As the day goes by, the app adds up your “Good Posture Hours” with a goal of 4 hours per day. I guess Sgt. Lumo doesn’t expect much from you from the start, knowing the road to a lifetime of good posture is a long and crooked one.

Two things struck me after wearing the device for a couple weeks, including on my vacation to New York City. First is the visibility of the device itself. Lumo Lift attaches to your shirt via a magnet — a square piece of metal about the size of a dime. The standard Lumo comes with a brushed nickel-colored magnet and a black magnet, presumably to mix and match based on your wardrobe.

The device only works when placed in the front of your shirt near your collarbone. If you’re wearing it on an under shirt, no one will see it, as your dress shirt will cover it. But wear it on your favorite rock T-shirt and there it is, like a badge proclaiming “I’m a chronic sloucher and this is my last-resort solution because, unlike you, I’m too lazy to stand up straight on my own.”

Who wants to advertise to everyone they’re a sloucher, especially when they’re not slouching? 

Since the Lumo Lift is brand-new technology (I’m ever the “early adapter”), no one knows what that dime-sized piece of metal is…yet. Instead, they must think it’s a quirky fashion accessory, or worse, an unfortunate medical device I’m being forced to wear, like a miniature pacemaker, something so dire they wouldn’t dare ask what is for fear of opening a depressing can of worms. 

Not once over the past two weeks did anyone ask what the tiny thing was attached to my T-shirt. But if the Lumo Lift catches on, it’s just a matter of time until people figure it out, like the mystery behind those colorful FitBits. 

The other problem with the Lumo Lift is that (subconsciously) your progress doesn’t “count” unless you’re wearing it. Technology has become ingrained into our leisure and fitness regimens. There is a plethora of smartphone apps and gadgets that track our lifestyles. Most are useful for mundane things like counting calories or miles, to the point where anal retentive users become dependent on them to prove their progress. 

For example, if I go for a 5k run without my iPhone tracking the workout, did the workout count? Or did the workout never happen? After all, there’s no record of it. It’s as if tracking the workout has become more important than the workout itself. Kind of like, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A guy I work with recently complained about a cycling disaster that happened the previous weekend. Did he have a blow-out or get hit by a car? No, he said. Somewhere along the Keystone Trail, his iPhone lost GPS connection, obliterating all evidence of his 30-mile marathon ride. “I mean, what was the point?”

It’s as if we’ve lost track of the real reason why we work out in the first place. And in this insufferable “selfie generation,” no experience really happens unless a record of it has been posted on Facebook. (An aside: At a recent concert, a music acquaintance asked if he could take a “selfie” with me. I said sure, but please don’t post the photo online anywhere — I don’t like posting photos of myself on the internet. “Nevermind.” If he couldn’t post the photo on Facebook, there was no point taking it at all). 

That said, it’s not as if I’d ever brag on social media about going four hours without slouching. 

After my first complete week wearing the Lumo Lift, I received a summary report in my email telling me how I’d done. 

You met your posture goal 6 days this week, and met your activity goal 2 days this week.” The report said on average, my posture was “Good,” and I was “Active” — meaning, apparently, that I walked more than sat. My best posture hours were between 1 and 2 p.m. and I was most active between 11 a.m. and noon. For the week I earned a total of 49 “good posture hours” and took 60,933 steps.

But maybe the most notable statistic was that not once did anyone compliment me on my posture. On the other hand, no one has told me to quit slouching, either. 

The real indicator whether Lumo Lift really works will be how good my posture is after I eventually quit wearing it. Let me know the next time you see me. 

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 tim.mcmahan@gmail.com


Category: Art

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