Weekend Wanderer: The Joy of Timer Apps


You know, I didn’t think braces would change my daily routine. But then I didn’t think a movie would ruin my marriage. Apparently, I just don’t think enough.

My braces are removable trays. The dental staff instructed me to remove them when I eat and drink. Before the trays go back in, I’m supposed to brush my teeth, then brush my trays.

Easy, right?

No! It’s not easy! Not at all! I need to wear the trays 22 hours a day. 22! No more lingering over my morning tea. No more endless cups of Starbucks while I ferry the kids.

And if Tom Cruise hadn’t already killed my marriage, I’d also miss out on evenings on my deck, relaxing over a few beers with my husband. So I guess Tom Cruise did me a favor.

I mean, thanks, Tom Cruise.

“Are you really telling me I have to wear these 22 hours a day?” I asked the dental staff. “Because you don’t know me. If you say I have to wear these 22 hours day, I will wear them 22 hours a day.”

“There’s an app,” the staff said, by way of a reply. “It has a timer for tracking how long you wear your trays each day.”

Hold the phone.

There’s an app? A tracking app? Why didn’t you say so?

Who cares about the missed venti cups and summer shandies? I can track what I’m doing with an app?

The regimentation of tracking myself with an app that’s irresistible. There is safety in regimentation. There is intention. There is order.

Three weeks in, I’m averaging precisely 21.8425 hours per day. That’s low, but my average was thrown off by Jurassic World. With a run time over two hours, I couldn’t meet the wear time that day. I mean, please. Could I really walk out on Dreadnoughtus to rid my teeth of popcorn and candy?

No. Dreadnoughtus was discovered by paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara. He’s local and possibly the coolest human on the planet. His book Why Dinosaurs Matter is fascinating.

Which brings us to the books. Or, more specifically, the reading app.

Here’s what happened. I need you to listen to my story and understand it wasn’t my fault that I signed up for another tracking app.

It was just blind good luck.

I went to the library to pick up a movie.

I walked out with four movies and four used books. And I had been registered for a summer-long reading contest.

The movies I think we can all understand. This looks good. That looks good. Four movies later you’re set for the week.

The used books … I don’t know. I get around used books and I’m all bad decisions and singular focus. Like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

And I may as well confess right now that one of the books I’ve already read.

Three times.

And I used to own it. I probably donated it to the library and wait. Yep. I think I just bought my own book back from the library.

Well. We’ll just pretend that isn’t true.

Innocently innocently, I tell you! Don’t look at me like that! I went to check out with the librarian. That was when she asked me if I’d like to join SummerQuest.

I had no idea what SummerQuest was. But librarians are only second in coolness to Kenneth Lacovara. And just like if someone asks you if you’re a god, you say yes, so it goes with librarians.

SummerQuest is an initiative to get us reading at least 20 minutes a day. And yes. There’s an app to track your daily reading time.

Reading and regimentation. Could this summer get any better?

Now, I could tell you that SummerQuest has made me fall behind on The Orville, Breeders, The Last Kingdom, and the Benjamin Franklin documentary. But who cares? The app has a timer! To track my daily reading!

I arrived home from the library with my arms full of SummerQuest materials. I should probably pause here to say the library is across the street from my neighborhood. I was supposed to be gone five minutes. I was gone an hour.

“Did you join a cult too?” my husband asked, eyeing the clock and the stack of SummerQuest paperwork.


The New Yorker suggests “… joining a cult requires an element of voluntary self-surrender … .”

I did voluntarily surrender to my librarian. And I will voluntarily surrender myself to a tracking app at every opportunity.

The New Yorker goes on to say if we agree to the notion of cults as self-surrender, we’re “also [obligated] to consider whether the very relinquishment of control isn’t a significant part of the appeal.”

Hmm. Are the apps controlling me? Probably. But I’m suffering crippling discomfort in the control I’ve lost thanks to the braces. I feel like Sandra Bullock, tumbling through space in Gravity. The apps let me take back some of that control. I set the timers. I turn them off. I’m the one in control here. Right?

One former cult member interviewed in The New Yorker says that people don’t seek out cults. They’re drafted into what they think is an honest institution. It’s only in the end that they realize the tragedy of their action.

SummerQuest ends in August. My braces come off in a year. Ends of time, as every notorious cult leader in history has promised.

If there is tragedy in my actions, I’ll find out in August. And next May.

We’ll talk then.

Now I need to go. I have some books to read.