The Blerch, Wearable Tech and Me

Hard to believe that it’s already been a few weeks since the world first glimpsed the Apple Watch.  I had the distinct advantage over much of the consumer populace during that announcement because I have already completely converted my entire mobile chain of command (Tablet, Phone, Camera, and yes, a Gear) to Samsung products.  Much as I might be tempted, there’s no reason for me to purchase this impressive new timepiece.

The iWatch renewed my interest in the wearable tech market.  Or more accurately, the rise of the wearable tech market and the impending demise of the unexamined life.  Before I delve too deeply into that, though, here’s some background.

A week ago I ran my second half marathon, a race called Beat the Blerch.  A year ago- almost to this exact day- I started running.  It’s really  easy for me to tell you the exact day because I started running using an App called “Couch-to-5K.” .  The app integrated GPS, music, and an audio coach with what I now understand to be a well phased training plan.  It delivers exactly what it promises- it took me from being a complete running-hating non-runner to finishing a 5k in 30 minutes.  It did this in 9 weeks, but well before that it had turned me into a ravening running fan.  I had signed up for a half marathon before I’d even reached week 6.

A couple of times the app lost my run.  No data? No mileage? No average speed? It was like the run hadn’t happened. Another couple of times I did the run using a different phone.  The app had no cloud behind it in which to save data.  That meant there were orphaned runs that were not being tabulated into the whole.  Panic struck . Spreadsheets were created.  A second running app was downloaded to merge the spreadsheets.  But that one reckoned time and distance differently because it didn’t include warm up and cool down as separate from the run.

It was about here that  wearables started proliferating.  I needed a single source of truth for my data, one that didn’t vary with the phone I was carrying.  I needed to stop my earplugs from bouncing out of my ears.  I needed to make sure that the mileage was properly recorded in my IBM-funded Fitbit..  Sometimes I wanted to take pictures if I was on a particularly scenic (or taxing) run.  So on a typical outing here’s what had to be suited up before I could leave.

1) Phone, because it contained my music and my training plan.

2) Bluetooth headset, because the armband for my phone swung too far away from my body and yanked out my earplugs.  Also, I like to be able to change songs.

3) Garmin 610 GPS watch, newly acquired during a doorbuster sale the day after Thanksgiving.  There was a heart monitor I could have worn that came bundled with the garmin that I remember absolutely requiring and haven’t used once.

4) Fitbit.

5) My samsung gear.  Because I found it confusing to have watches on each wrist, the gear and the GPS would be next to each other on my left arm, a fashion statement no one has signed off on since the end of the Swatch fad in the 80’s.

I was a christmas tree of wearable tech.  None of this prep included things like sunscreen, camelbak backpack, my inhaler or my house key.  As things got more intense during the training for the half, I had to add mid-run electolytes and caffeine.  So the suit up phase could last for up to 20 minutes while I found all of the various elements needed to properly facilitate, soundtrack and record the use of my own legs.

The rise of the wearables is being facilitated by our addiction to data.  As with most addictions, the onramp seems worth it until we find the downside.  A couple of days ago I came across this article in The Suit .  The article discusses the potential dangers of having employees bringing networked devices into the workplace, which is a variant on the current thinking around BYOD.  But the kicker sentence is right here:

From an administrator’s point of view, a business can monitor and track employees through their use of wearable tech

As I mentioned earlier, the fitbit I was wearing during my christmas tree days was an IBM-funded device.  As part of our personal vitality rebate, we had the option of having IBM provide us a fitbit, then linking the fitbit account to a third-party wellness program.  This saved us the trouble of having to manually log our activities, and also gamified the process of leaving our desks by providing points for different levels of activity.  These points were redeemable for Amazon rewards.

I am ambivalent at best about my employer being able to read my activity data.  I went into the program knowing that I was training for a half marathon and was therefore going to shatter whatever bar was set for the game.  My  fitbit fell off my wrist while I wandered around the expo floor of SXSW – which I now realize was the fitbit equivalent of running away to join the circus- and therefore never got to redeem any of my accrued points.  But there’s a balance here that we need to contemplate.

1) Is it a good thing that we can no longer work out without data-driven feedback?

2) Does our employer have any place whatsoever in that data?

 

If we accrue too many points in one day, are we spending too much time away from our desks? If we spend no time away from our desks, are we then a health insurance risk?  To me this seems like a door we need to be very deliberate about opening, as it will be very difficult to close again.

P.S. Wearable tech skepticism be damned,  I saw this at SXSW and raved about it then:  “Ring,”  should be the standard for design of these devices going forward. [Buy one.  I mean be careful and everything, but Buy One.]

2014-03-10 14.23.31

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