Last month I read an article about the effectiveness of fitness trackers that caught my eye, being both a fitness and a technology enthusiast. In fact, I do wear a fitness tracker that I only reluctantly take off when it needs charging.
The article was written off the back of a study from Stanford University. According to the research, fitness trackers are very accurate in measuring heart rate, but not so much in total calorie consumption. As the BBC reported, not one of the devices included in the test had an error rate below 20 per cent – and some were much more inaccurate.
This raises alarm bells as, according to researchers and journalists, people have become dependent on these devices when it comes to staying healthy.
I do not think that the problem with fitness trackers, or any other wearable technology, is that they are inaccurate. To me, the issue is that people have forgotten that nothing is perfect – not even technology.
Depending on a small device on your wrist to make decisions around what and how much you eat, when you move and how much you move, is not the point of technology.
Wearables, including fitness trackers, are meant to help, not substitute. As I said, I wear one of these devices on my wrist, and I do check my heart rate during a workout. I do find it useful that it buzzes if I’ve been sat for 55 minutes straight without moving. I review how many hours of sleep it has tracked. However, this is not to say that I outsource my thinking to it, which is what I am afraid some are doing.
We have become lazy as a society and would like machines to do it all for us – even think. Yet, at the same time, we are scared to death that ‘robots’ will take our jobs. Yes, technology is developed to make people’s lives easier, but one should never lose sight of the bigger picture.
Back to the fitness tracker issue, you know how hard you pushed yourself at the gym, or how light that walk was. You may not be able to tell how many calories you burnt, because that is actually a very hard thing to do even for professionals with medical equipment. But you know your body, you can feel if you worked hard, or not. Listening to your body should never be forgotten in favour of listening to a device.
So, while trackers might be inaccurate, they are not responsible for our misuse of them. If you shook your hand vigorously to fool the tracker into adding a few more steps and then ate that extra slice of cake, don’t blame the miscalculated calories.
Tech is only as smart as the people that made it, and even they are human. Mistakes happen, no device is perfect, but the mistake is thinking they should be in the first place.