I began this year planning to embrace that most early-January of clichés: the annual mass pilgrimage to the gym. I didn’t care if more consistent exercisers scorned my amateur-hour efforts and ignorance of mat etiquette; I would start the year off on the right foot, which is to say a hip’s-width distance from and parallel to my other foot—mountain pose, in yoga parlance. 2018, let’s do this.
Instead of belonging to a gym I use ClassPass, a subscription service for fitness classes. For a flat monthly membership fee—I pay $75, which gives me either five classes or 45 “credits” under a new system ClassPass is testing—I use it to book classes at a mix of different studios. Many of these offer “boutique” takes on spinning, barre, and various other things that people like Gwyneth Paltrow are always raving about. I signed up last year after years of not belonging to a gym or studio, and I hoped prepaying for a set number of classes would actually inspire me to show up. It’s more expensive than the unlimited access you get through many standard gym memberships (though cheaper, per class, than paying the upfront price of most of these studios), and though it’s been around for a few years and is available in 40 cities, it’s precisely the kind of coastal-snob nonsense I would mock if I didn’t find it so exceedingly convenient.
So there I was this Wednesday, all set to begin my new year’s fitness journey, when ClassPass, for the first time, failed me. It wouldn’t book the class I picked; the site kept turning out errors. I got out my phone and tried to book using the app, and no luck. Even though my selection was a not-too-special yoga class at the off-peak hour of 8 p.m., it seemed possible it was full, maybe of others trying to jump-start their resolutions. But then I couldn’t book my second and third choices either. For maybe 20 minutes I toggled between my laptop and phone, click-click-clicking on the “reserve class” button, each tap reinforcing that maxim that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. For all the stress of it I would probably need a second yoga class.
ClassPass later confirmed that it had been having a problem with some reservations and cancelations, but by the time it was back up it was too late for me; my exercise window passed me by. (Just like so many people lapping me on the track in high school gym class. Sigh.) The timing was inopportune—three days into the new year, just as we, the resolved, were gearing up to kick 2018’s butt.
I probably should have shrugged this off as an everyday inconvenience, but I managed to convince myself (and my editor!) that the outage, on this of all weeks, was actually history’s greatest tragedy. Examining the situation in a completely rational and objective way, I quickly came to the conclusion that there’s pretty much no way ClassPass can ever really make this up to me. Let’s say the service offers me additional class credits for the inconvenience: That would just mean I have two more credits to use up, with zero exercise actually accomplished. Extra credits won’t make these muscles work themselves! Does the service understand how rare it is for a person (me) to actually get psyched up about exercising? It’s an impossible-to-fake feeling, and it was going to set the tone for my whole year. Who knows, I may have even exercised so hard at that Wednesday class that I would have filled my quota for the entire year in one go and would already now, as I write some other article instead of this one, be incredibly fit. What I’m saying is that those bozos messed up my life irrevocably and short of providing cosmetic surgery or inventing time travel, there’s no way to make up for my lost attendance at this one, ever-so-crucial yoga class. And I would have told ClassPass all of that in a strongly worded letter, if I weren’t afraid of being flagged as unstable and banned.
Breathe. Assume child’s pose.
Yes, there’s a new year’s moral here, and it’s not that apps, when they work, can empower us to be the new and improved selves we imagine. It’s that we shouldn’t need them for that—or so many of the other useful but unnecessary ways they make our lives easier.
It would be easy to blame ClassPass and other on-demand services of its ilk for transforming me into the kind of spoiled brat who flips out when she can’t get her fancy exercise class due to a technical glitch. But I think the real lesson of becoming overly dependent on the vagaries of some startup is not to become so reliant on anything. The day after my ClassPass freakout, Mother Nature dumped a “bomb cyclone” on the Northeast, delaying my exercise plans yet again. Tech isn’t going to disrupt weather anytime soon, and it’s never going to be perfect every time.
As useful as tools like ClassPass can be, they’re not the only ways we have to better ourselves, the tech industry’s messianic promises notwithstanding. It’s great if we’re using them to realize our new year’s ambitions, but as good a resolution as any would be learning to let apps, startups, and other new-fangled services complement our lives and habits without overdetermining them. Next time my boutique fitness solution fails me, I resolve to exhale before I start having a meltdown. Hey, maybe I should download one of those meditation apps.