As digital technology plays an ever-increasing role in our daily lives, we have begun to seek new uses and applications for it. Rather than allowing ourselves to feel like our lives are ‘managed’ by technology, we like to try to find ways to use it in helping us overcome the challenges we face on a day-to-day basis.
One of our main concerns is, of course, health, and in particular, our lack of exercise. Technology that was once used to largely enable our sedentary lifestyles – meaning that we barely ever needed to get up from the sofa, thanks to a whole variety of apps – is now being used to reverse the effect.
Fitness trackers are not exactly new, and people have been monitoring their own performances using little more than a stopwatch, for generations. What fitness trackers have failed to do, however, is to motivate us. It turns out that we don’t seem to take our obligations and responsibilities to ourselves anywhere near as seriously as we ought to, and so fitness trackers – much like gym passes – get used a couple of times before being forgotten.
So what happens when we start to involve our obligations to other group members? A team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looked at results from a test group of 200 adults who had been given fitness trackers. The adults were required to set themselves a daily goal for the number of steps they wanted to take, in order to get, and keep them up and away from the couch.
The interesting aspect of this test was that each person had at least one other family member participating in the competition, with whom they could also be selected for a team competition against other families. In order to win the game, each team member needed to meet their daily target of steps. The team’s score was not calculated as an average or a total of all the members, but by each day secretly adding the total for one of the members. As nobody in the team knew whether or not they would be selected, they felt that they couldn’t ‘slack off’.
After twelve weeks of competition, it could be shown that team members achieved their goals more often than the individuals in the control group, who were not participating as team members. On average, they took 1,700 steps more than the non-team members.