Getting Smaller

November 16, 2022

As someone who’s worked in tech for a long time, most days find me complaining about the industry as opposed to praising any supposed “advances” it makes. It’s honestly hard not to these days.

But sometimes, you find yourself pleasantly surprised by tech progress. Yesterday was one of those times.

A number of years ago, I started experiencing some symptoms that led to a diagnosis for a mild heart condition. Nothing life-threatening or untreatable. Beyond taking medication, the condition’s major impact on my life has been forcing me to see a cardiologist a few times a year, getting occasional EKGs, and wearing a heart monitor from time-to-time.

The first heart monitor—or Holter monitor, to be more accurate—I had to wear was a bulky collection of sticky electrodes, wires, and a big ol’ box (the recorder) to collect the data, which I wore like the world’s worst necklace. I’d put it underneath my shirt but who am I kidding? You couldn’t hide that thing.

The next one I remember was similar, but the recorder was slightly smaller and fit almost comfortably in my pants pocket. Eventually, the technology progressed enough that the electrodes didn’t need to be physically wired to the recorder and the recorder was replaced with a cheap, generic Android phone which fit much better in my pocket. Still annoying to carry around two phones, but an improvement nonetheless…

At some point in the last few years, they were able to ditch the phone entirely and combine the recorder and electrodes into an assembly that looked like my ribs flying a kite on my chest. Nothing external to carry around and—apart from the irritation from shaving parts of my torso—relatively comfortable.

As I’m writing this, I’m wearing what will hopefully be my last Holter monitor. It’ll see how my heart’s doing after my doctor decided to try taking my off my medication. When I got it put on yesterday, I expected at least two sections and a wire, similar to the last one. What I got instead was what looks like a Tamagochi stuck to my chest. Not quite as fun as a Tamagochi, and with a lot more razor burn, but I marveled at how small the monitor is now. It was a far cry from the box, wires, and stickers that I had to use less than a decade ago.

So far, I’ve barely noticed it. It’s lightweight, compact, and mostly hidden underneath a sweatshirt (thanks, chilly Michigan weather). Unless I feel any symptoms, I don’t even have to think about it. And, if I do feel anything, all I need to do is press it to log an event. Early next week, I’ll peel it off, stick it in a box with a prepaid label, and send it on its way. Next month, my doctor and I will see what it says and figure out next steps. Contrast that to the first few monitors, which required me to drive 45 minutes into the office and have a tech remove it and send it to the lab.

It’s easy to get lost in the drudgery of the tech world. Sure, iPhones get better cameras every year, but the tech world has shown its capacity to wreak havoc on the world and its inhabitants in countless ways over the past few years. But this week has reminded me that tech can still improve people’s experiences and lives in small but still important ways.