The Odd Synergy of Tech and New Age Wellness
Technology today is largely seen as a detriment to our physical and mental health. However, innovations in wearable tech could be the key to wellness.
The latest and greatest in health scares may be in your hand right now. You’ve heard it before: phones are the new cigarettes. We spend an unhealthy amount of time staring at screens, at our desk or at home or on the go, scrolling, tweeting, reading, emailing, refreshing, “like”ing, filtering or screen-grabbing. Our constant phone-crouch is compressing our spines and cramping our thumbs. Couples don’t talk on dates; teens aren’t socializing. The techie-est among us go on technology-detox weekends, seeking to “disconnect to reconnect,” or build tech-free hours into their schedule. This all might lead you to believe that technology is the enemy of health— that our screen addiction and our constantly-connected state might be incompatible with well-being. But in the midst of this technological backlash, an odd synergy has emerged: not only can technology coexist with those healthy lifestyles you scroll past on Instagram— tech can amplify efforts towards better health, as we can see with the emergence of apps that aim to increase mindfulness and positivity. Now, a new generation of wearable tech companies are pushing towards a world where tech and wellness complement each other.
Enter entrepreneurs like Billie Whitehouse, the designer, director, and CEO of Wearable X, who this year launched a pair of souped-up yoga pants. The Nadi X have woven-in technology that uses gentle vibrations to guide your attention during your sun salutations. Lean into a pose and the pants buzz in the area where you should re-focus.
It’s almost a physical manifestation of the “nudge” theory from behavioral economics, in which choice architecture nudges people towards better decisions. Now, technology can transform everyday products into enchanted helpers guiding you into healthier patterns, curated specifically for your lifestyle, body, and needs. “The truth of the matter is every company has to be a data company these days,” Whitehouse said. But she went on to explain that getting the right information and making it useful helps people understand their bodies in a more holistic way.
Our inability to monitor ourselves objectively means we can’t always be trusted to fix bad habits. You can wear athleisure all day, but your phone will know you didn’t go on that run. If you don’t report to a food diary what you ate, the number of Thanksgiving-leftovers sandwiches you consumed is lost to the pages of history.
"This is using technology to empower your self-health, rather than just being an observer."
But at the same time, we now live with a constant firehose of data, from emails and texts and social media notifications and terrifying news alerts. It can feel daunting to opt into a feed of information about calories and heart rates and other small ways in which we are dying. Too much data is overwhelming and debilitating. But having meaningful information about your body and habits introduces an impartial third party, and good software can help you make sense of it so you can make the adjustments you need to live a healthier life. “This is using technology to empower your self-health, rather than just being an observer,” Whitehouse said.
The applications and implications abound: Nadi X helps make yoga more accessible for people with difficulty hearing, and makes classes with sought-after instructors available to those who are too busy or far-removed to commute to major city centers for a class.
Wearable X’s next projects include a bra that will remind wearers to roll their shoulders back and down and that will guide them in breathing exercises during meditation. Then the Nadi X pants software will get an upgrade— “same pants, same pulse, but you can move it into different areas of wellness,” like doing squats or possibly cycling or running, Whitehouse said. They’re also considering working on a software geared towards physical recovery, for pants that help the healing process after a surgery or injury.
And the space is growing: everyone from Pfizer to Verizon are working on or offering technology to improve health: DNAFit uses your 23andMe genetic data to your exercise frequency to suggest a diet program and other lifestyle changes. “Those uses of predictive analytics are fascinating— taking the right kind of data from multiple different sources to create really interesting models,” Whitehouse said.
"The power of vibration is kind of bonkers—It's only just being explored."
Many or most of us have already integrated our lives with Bluetooth technology, with Siri and/or Alexa, with products from Sonos and Bose. Now, consumers are beginning to get more comfortable with smart textiles, sensors, and pulses.
“The power of vibration is kind of bonkers,” she said. “It's only just being explored.”
There are fabrics that that monitor your heartrate, sensors to place under your infant’s mattress to indicate if they’ve rolled over, and devices that combine ice and vibration to physiologically overwhelm the body’s pain nerves.
Arguably the consumer world isn’t fully ready for these changes. The backlash to constant connecion and our questions surrounding its impact on mental and physical health speaks to the constant discomfort most customers feel adopting a new technology. There was a time when people were uncomfortable by ordering things online. Obviously we got over it. We accepted the creepiness of Google targeting ads based on our emails (sometimes they have good ideas!). We are still not completely sure how we as a society feel about Alexa and Siri eavesdropping on our conversations. But once we acclimate to a technology, once we’re convinced that it’s a net benefit to our lives— often, this moment coincides with when everyone else is doing it— mass adoption and advances aren’t far behind. That will help deepen the connections between technology and wellness, which will encourage more innovation and exciting new products that we will be reluctant to adopt and then can’t imagine living without. Take it from will.i.am, musician, producer and now tech entrepreneur: “Fashion has not realized how their jobs are not going to be around 10-20 years from now,” he said on a panel at this year’s Fashion Tech Forum. Brands, he said, “better start thinking of how to bring new things to people or else the G is not going to be a freaking Gucci, that sh*t is going to be Google."