Harvard Hero Moment #19: Witness the fitness

Ben Roberts

29 Jan 2020

10,000 steps! 600 calories burned! 100km cycled! For some of us, our every move is tracked and calculated by handy fitness trackers. In fact, I bet a lot of you reading this got new ones for Christmas – whether you’re looking to drop a bit of December timber, just trying to make your daily step count or training for your first marathon! I have an Apple Watch, but over the years I’ve tried loads of them – a Nike+ FuelBand, a Fitbit Ultra, a Microsoft Band, an Adidas Fit Smart and I think some others (yes, I know I should just get a Garmin). I love them.

Data. Insight. Progress.

As anyone in the tech industry knows, data is the fuel for pretty much everything in the digital age – insights, artificial intelligence, personalisation – and, used responsibly and smartly, will help improve our lives. I’ve always loved the idea of tracking my activity for this reason. I think it serves as a platform to improve and to progress – to benchmark where I am and how I can develop. I like the idea of constant improvement. OK, that’s actually a small lie. In reality, it’s more of a way of stopping a catastrophic decline as I hit my mid-thirties and everything falls to pieces. But that’s important too!

All about the service

Of course, the trackers themselves – whichever you’re using – are really only as useful as the services that draw from the information they track. Many of the trackers link to proprietary tools like Apple Activity or Garmin Connect. But there are other very successful services that have been built upon the platforms the trackers offer. Apps like Strava or Nike Run Club sync with trackers and help users to train better, harder and smarter. They gamify exercise and, in some cases, offer coaching from elite athletes to motivate and improve performance. At their best, they create communities of users who compete, give kudos and observe the achievements of their peers. I’ve never been someone who would join a running club; I don’t have the time or commitment and I’m certainly not sociable enough to do it. I always felt, however, that I had my own little community on Strava. What else do I need?

Half-man, half-machine

Isn’t that the technology dream? Technology augmenting human beings and helping them reach their potential on their terms? We’re probably a while away from mechanically enhanced crowds wandering the streets of the UK, but fitness trackers are helping people be better, healthier versions of themselves. I think that’s awesome.