Technology Doesn’t Change People

Every day, technology beckons with the promise of making us slimmer, healthier, smarter, prettier and better. We buy tech things—lots and lots of tech things—to help us achieve our goals.

For instance, I’ve worn a Fitbit activity tracker on my wrist for about two-and-a-half years. I try to reach my goal of 10,000 steps per day. I like the device a lot, but has it really changed my behavior? Probably not. I’ve run marathons and always stayed active. This is simply a continuation of the trend.

On the other hand, if I click on the “Friends” button in the Fitbit app and view “inactive friends,” I find 29 people that apparently purchased Fitbits but don’t use them. Only five of my friends actually use the tracker. According to Fitbit regulatory filings, about half of all users abandon these devices.

I’m sure every person who purchases a Fitbit or other activity tracker starts off with good intentions. But, like going to the gym or embarking on a diet, it takes an underlying sense of commitment, and an ability to change behavior, to accomplish the goal.

Of course, activity trackers are only part of a bigger story. People constantly flame out on all sorts of things. They pay for subscriptions or a device, use them like mad for a few days, weeks or months, and then sputter to a complete stop.

Part of the problem is that that today’s health and fitness devices do not provide the level of information or insight necessary to drive behavioral changes. Sure, you can see that you took 100 or 1,000 steps using an activity tracker. You can view a sleep monitoring app and know you went to bed too late or woke up five times during the night.

But how does any of this really help? Even when you hit your goal, are you really doing what you need to be doing?

A bigger issue, and one that is often ignored in today’s gadgetpalooza, is that no device or technology intrinsically changes underlying behavior. A person must have a greater motivation or desire than mere gamification and badges—or the somewhat abstract promise of losing weight or becoming fitter. The fun factor only goes so far.

Apple has the right idea with the Apple Watch. It will buzz after you sit for an hour and prompt you to get up and move. But that’s just a tiny piece of the overall puzzle.

In fact, even as these devices advance and deliver more detailed and actionable data, it’s doubtful whether they will actually make any significant difference in our lives. Technology changes; people don’t.