Anyone who knows me or read my first post knows that health and wellness make up a huge portion of my life. Powerlifting is probably tied with teaching as my greatest passion in life. It is where I am at my best, and where I am most myself. This very healthy pursuit, however, started in a very unusual way. A tech comic that I read, XKCD, published a comic (Dirty joke warning. You’ve been warned.) which pointed me toward an app called Fitocracy. Essentially, you track exercise, and the exercise is assigned points. Get enough points, and gain a level. It’s a pretty direct integration of the principles of gamification brought forward by people like Jane McGonigal. I started out running on treadmills and doing bicep curls. Then I realized that I got way more points for squat, bench press, and deadlift. I picked up a book on powerlifting, and got addicted. Using technology vastly improved my own health and fitness. To this day, I track a wide variety of training metrics digitally. I write down all of my training on pen and paper, and then plug it into an app to put together training metrics to make sure that I am training optimally.
I have learned, through all of this, the value of tech when it comes to health. I also know the flip side, though. Like many nerds, I gained what I call “The World of Warcraft 50”, as opposed to the freshman 15. I sat in a chair for weeks at a time, eating terribly, and getting completely sucked into a virtual world. In short, technology was in no small part the reason that I got unhealthy, but it was also the reason that I got healthy.
Each of these debates thus far has, in my view, boiled down to a simple question about life, or values. In this case, it seems to me that it is asking less about ed tech, and more about motivation. The side that suggested that ed tech is making kids unhealthy focused a lot on the sedentary nature of modern childhood. Kids who are content to sit on a couch and push a little button that releases dopamine or seratonin into their brains all day every day. One of the articles from debate 2 suggested that kids are finding school boring. I have to disagree. I think the issue isn’t that school is boring. As Jane McGonigal suggests in Reality is Broken Reality is Broken , it’s not that the world is boring, it’s that it has to compete with purpose-built entertainment at every turn. Kids are being so entertained and compelled by tech that reality simply can’t compete. When your imagined worlds are real and tangible, and designed specifically to excite you, the real world can’t keep up.
Many of the health tools, such as fitbits, myfitnesspal and the like serve to make reality feel more like a game. Set a goal, reach the goal, feel a satisfying buzz on your wrist, or see the numbers on your calorie count turn green. Motivation is moving from intrinsic to extrinsic. More than just social media, we are turning our kids into confirmation addicts when it comes to their health too. I did a quick count in my class today, there were 12 wearing fitness monitors, myself included. Many of them got their trackers in boxes of cereal. That’s the world we live in now. Kids are tracking their fitness, because they’re too sedentary.
Health and technology have a complicated relationship. Depending on the article you read, tech is both the cause of and solution to all of our health concerns. At the end of the day, it is important to realize that technology is a tool, and that people are in control. When an artist makes a bad painting, they don’t blame their brush. When a carpenter builds a shoddy house, they don’t blame their hammer. So is technology making our kids unhealthy? No. But it’s having the same effect on poor health as it is on every aspect of our life. It’s making it more efficient.