Does technology create behaviour changes?

Chris Pollard

Advances in technological capabilities proceed at such a rate that finding how, or importantly, whether these can benefit society takes far longer.

The phone in your pocket (or perhaps carefully placed in your eyeline to ensure alerts can reach you quickly) contains significantly more processing capability that computer units supporting business a decade or two ago. 

In June 2016, Statistica estimated there were over 2m applications that consumers could download, and given this study was six months ago, the number will doubtless have increased. A recent trend in mobile technology has been within the fitness space, but has it really been recent? Not really. 

Having been an active hockey player, representing club, county and the West of England, I retired in my mid 30s. The prospect of running without a ball in sight was unheard of, and I spent the best part of five years growing unfit and fat, with exercise limited to a brisk walk to my village pub. 

Then, inspired, by a former colleague I decided to run 10k. This was 2005, and to motivate me, I opted to run to raise funds for MacMillan who had done a wonderful job looking after my late dad some years earlier. 

Whilst the run was far from enjoyable, roll the clock forward and two years later and I was on the starting line (well standing in a lake) in Austria attempting to complete Ironman Austria; a gruelling event that demands a 3.8m swim, an uncomfortable 180k bike ride, followed by a footslogging marathon. I used technology to help me achieve this goal.

Initially a simple sports watch that monitored my heart rate from a chest belt and a GPS chip that was unattractively attached to my cycling and running shoes. The summary also included the number of calories consumed – vital so I could licence myself a beer or two after particularly long sessions fooling myself I’d earned it.

Even 12 years ago, this was not cutting edge technology. More serious amateur athletes were using more sophisticated technology providing even more data. But let’s be clear, the technology did not get me from the start line to the finish line but I believe without it, the hundreds of hours of training would have been less instructive, and less informative.

It provided important metrics, and provided controls to discipline my training perhaps the market leaders at the time were Polar and Garmin, with Garmin still a market leader.

Wearable technology providing fitness data are no longer limited to the obsessive athlete keen to achieve new personal bests, but for all.

To be able to easily record the number of steps taken, how far you have walked, how many stairs climbed, calories consumed (mostly estimated) is (maybe) of interest to some.