February 7, 2017
Apple watches, VR, Fitbits and the Leaf. All this new tech might seem like it’s making our lives easier, but are we too focused on the gadgets themselves to learn the behavioural lessons these new devices are trying to teach us?
It seems strange (and a little tragic) that the wearable activity tracker market and UK obesity levels are set to balloon in the next 10 - 20 years†.
Surely one has to come out on top? Are these new tools just expensive social crutches or social badges we wear to show others we take our wellbeing seriously while doing nothing to actually improve it? It seems like wearable tech is the new exercise DVD - beloved at Christmas and shoved to the back of a cupboard come Easter.
We are living through an economic and social revolution caused by technology, but we’re also living through a neuroscience and behavioural research revolution. We’ve learned more about the human brain and human behaviour in the last three decades than we ever have.
In sport, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of sports psychologists as we begin to understand the relationship the mind has with the body. Cycling coach Sir Dave Brailsford names psychology as his single most important act of innovation, and the area he has learned most from.
In business, we’ve seen the emergence of neuromarketing, a type of research which studies the brain’s response to marketing, and how it is shaping how many popular consumer brands sell their products.
Silicon Valley leading tech companies now incorporate our behavioural biases into the design of their product or business model in order to hook us on their products or services. Think Facebook, Candy Crush Saga, etc.
Of course, some people ‘get it’, and are using technology to help them make positive behavioural changes. The rest of us seem content to be relentlessly seduced into investing in the latest must-have app or gadget. Online and offline we sing its praises, but we are, in reality, falling victim to fads and not benefiting from the underlying behavioural lessons the tools are meant to teach us.
It’s a bit like a GCSE student not being allowed to use a calculator during their maths mock exam. You’ve already got the tool which invented the calculator - the brain - which is free, and gets stronger the more you use it. But why would you when a machine can do the work for you?
Our brains are far from perfect, but we can make them better with just a little bit of effort. So, if you’re thinking of investing in the next ‘big thing’ that’ll ‘cure’ you of your bad habits, take a moment. Focus on the right tool – your mind – and use technology to help you overcome your known negative behavioural biases.
Yes, our brains are far from perfect, but like any technology we can make it more productive. So, let’s focus on the right technology tool, debug some of our human behaviours, and in the process make ourselves smarter, better and richer.
†The wearable activity tracker market has grown to be worth over $2bn in just over 5 years and is forecast to be worth $40bn by 2020. Health experts believe obesity levels could rise to between 40-50% of the adult population before 2030, and one leading health professor has described the UK as “the ‘fat man’ of Europe”.