I ran the Chattanooga Half-Marathon a week ago today. My family and I were up at 4:30am to make the hour-plus drive through our part of the mountains so we could park the car and herd with hundreds of other runners onto a shuttle bus. I headed to the start line, and my wife and daughter searched out a place to have coffee and thaw out from their pre-dawn shivers.
When it comes to the confluence of athletic performance and technology, I tend to geek-out a little bit. In the start corrals, I noticed a few runners wearing a big hard plastic band around their heads. I wasn’t sure what this was about.
I guess every sport has a kind of techno-geeky athlete aspect.
Looking back, I recall that mine kicked in during the Spring of 1990. That’s when I bought a big-clumsy heart rate monitor. It was the first of several to which I would upgrade over the years.
I wore its elastic band and reader around my chest. It transmitted my heart rate to a watch I had on my wrist. I strapped it all on for each of my canoe workouts. It was exhilarating to know that I could take real technology, that I owned, onto the water with me and I no longer needed to be supervised by someone standing on the shore.
After each workout, I’d go home and retrieve my training session heart rate measurements and plot them on graph paper with a pen!
The finished heart rate graph was a series of up and down lines, which I then would distill mentally by way of a less temporal question: “What’s the story underlying all this data?”
In the subsequent decades, the next great frontier of human performance technology shifted away from the heart and towards the brain.
Scientists are really intrigued with what’s going on in our heads.
I crossed the finish line of the half-marathon in pretty good form. A good friend met me there. After I slugged down a chug of water, he enthusiastically insisted that I go with him into the nearby exhibitors tent as he had two people he wanted me to meet.
The first booth to the right as we entered the tent was sparsely populated with a small collective of young techno-engineering types. On the table were a couple laptops and a flat screen monitor with graphs that were changing in real time.
I was like a fish to bait. Reel me in.
These technologists and researchers were the ones who had convinced a handful of runners to wear specialized headgear to measure brain activity along the marathon route. The results were spit-out in real time on the monitors. These were the same competitors who I saw at start line wearing the funky plastic headwear.
I watched their live-brain activity and listened to what the researchers hoped the results might accomplish. It had all the characteristics of cool technology — portable, personal, and new.
Yet, as much as I applauded the innovation, there were holes in what they had going on, as well as some missed opportunities.
Our conversation was an exercise in me in trying to discover what story their data does NOT tell.
Many of the portable apps, platforms, and technologies we use in our daily lives lock us into the repetitive feedback loops of congratulatory emails and alerts for doing the same thing each day, which amounts to, “Here’s the data we tracked together. Isn’t this great?”
If performing better is the endgame, what if you start to ask better questions that drive at the story of the data that’s not being told? Challenge functionality, helpfulness, and factors that will unconditionally stretch you towards , change, and growth?
At a time when people are thinking more intensely than ever about their relationships to technology, I’d suggest this — whatever the data that comes your way, whether it’s a perceived convenience, or movement encouraged, ask yourself, “What’s the story NOT being told?”
Pick the most dominant form of technology in your life and apply the question. Maybe your technology is something complicated like music engineering or video editing — or it could be as simple as your smart phone with a Facebook alert.
It’s all based in human performance technology. So, ask it: What’s the story NOT being told?
Here’s a clue… most answers reside in the human part.