In a world where there are increasing numbers of wearables and gadgets, phone apps and devices, it can seem like there is seemingly no end to our onward march towards becoming part-cyborg.
The benefits of an increasing objective and quantifiable life in many facets are definitely present. It can help us gain feedback, motivate us towards our goals and help make better choices. Not to mention, wearables allow you to take ownership of your health and body in a way that was previously unattainable when this type of technology didn’t exist.
That said, there are always things to consider and be concerned about when it comes to wearables. In the article, we’ll explore the healthy and not-so-healthy ways that wearables can affect your life to help you make an informed decision if tech wearables are right for you.
Too much technology (and what constitutes “too much” is a very individual concept) can stress people out. There can also be an unhealthy relationship and obsession with wearable devices that should be avoided.
Most wearables measure only a handful of factors. They produce a “global” score—but this will only ever reflect part of the picture. It’s important to remember that even sleep itself is only one part of optimal health. Using these devices to measure different facets of health is great, but it’s important to remember that it’s about a holistic picture of health, not optimizing one part of it.
Goodhart’s law states, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” It only takes one look at someone sitting on the couch, swinging their arm while they watch TV “to get their 10,000 steps in” to understand Goodhart’s law.
In the context of wearable tech, we can clearly see the potential pitfalls of trying to optimize a measure on your wearable blindly, rather than considering in terms of your health more broadly.
Subjective vs. objective data
In an ideal world, the objective data from the wearable should inform your subjective experience and help improve your ability to intuitively understand what’s going on with your health. However, you shouldn’t be solely relying on your wearable and objective measures.
For example: If you are a) feeling good, b) subjectively look better in the mirror, and c) your clothes are fitting better, then the number on the scale shouldn't change your view that you have made a positive change to your body. The number on the scale may have gone up, but the increased muscle mass from your new exercise routine has improved your body composition.
If the objective data begins to overrule your subjective experience, it would probably serve you well to spend periods of time without wearables to start to better understand the subjective aspects of the relevant factors again.
You should also know that wearable data is not always 100% correct. The impact of believing blindly in it can be significant. There is the potential for this data to have a “nocebo” type of effect on you. That is—you start to feel bad because your wearable tells you that you should, when you would’ve otherwise felt fine.
Device-related obsession is all too common and, unfortunately, becoming more prevalent in today’s society.
Did you know that there are now documented names for wearable related disorders? For example, orthosomnia is a sleep disorder related to an obsession over sleep tracker data.
It is important to understand that wearables can have many functions and fill many roles, but the feedback they provide should be considered helpful information—rather than a judgemental teacher waiting to scold you for poor performance.
A good relationship with your wearable is one where you are thankful for the feedback and assistance on your journey, not one where you’re fearsome of the number that stares back at you.
Tips for healthy wearable use
Whether you’re a wearable newbie or an experienced user, here are some helpful tips for healthy wearable use.
- Wearables should add to your experience and aid in your health journey—not detract from it.
- The goal of wearables is to increase your intuition and understanding of your body, not increase your reliance on wearables.
- Make sure you have the right relationship with your wearables. They should be interesting and informative, not obsession-creating.
- Be wary of the nocebo effect.
- Remember: The goal is improved health, not improved metrics on a wearable.
The bottom line
Optimal health has many facets, not least of which is mental health. This encompases your relationship to technology in general and, of course, wearable technology.
It is of the utmost importance that you both examine your relationship to technology and wearable technology and ensure that it remains a healthy one. Remember, the goal is optimal health, not optimizing numbers on a screen.
For more information on how Hearty uses wearable tech, check out this article.
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Baron KG, Abbott S, Jao N, Manalo N, Mullen R. Orthosomnia: are some patients taking the quantified self too far? J Clin Sleep Med. 2017;13(2):351–354.