Personal Health Apps: Making you Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Personal health apps offer the opportunity to better manage your health and the possibility of surveillance.

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Personal health apps hold a lot of promise for those with chronic conditions that require constant monitoring – such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. They can help people monitor the health of elderly parents or other loved ones in their care. These apps are still in their infancy. Currently, they mostly only measure the number of steps you take (like the Fitbit), or help you record what you’re eating on your SmartPhone.

 

Soon they are likely to be not just worn or carried – but implanted within our bodies. As they evolve – the offer both an opportunity for people to better manage their health and the threat of highly intrusive surveillance. So far it seems their main effect is to increase anxiety (see here).

 

Apps for a better posture

I tested it out. Does a wearable app help me become harder, better, faster, stronger? My main vice is poor posture and I bought LumoLift to correct it. It’s a little sensor, which sits against my skin, attached to my clothes and connected to my phone. So far I am using it as a “coach” – it buzzes me whenever I don’t stand straight.

 

UltimateBuzzShockI can definitely attest to the increase in anxiety. Changing behaviors is hard and makes you grumpy, as anyone who has been around someone quitting smoking can attest. In my case, it’s driving me up the wall. But I am buoyed by the upbeat messages which keep appearing on my phone: Show that buzz who’s boss! Good posture looks great on you! This is what we like to call #winning! Looks like someone is a perfectionist!

 

So I am #winning in terms of managing my posture, but the surveillance part is a worry. Who wants to see me grumpy? Why would anyone spy on me?

 

Your insurance company is watching you

Surveillance via personal apps is likely to be fuelled by insurance companies. A recent Guardian article points out that BP has been giving US employees Fitbits for a couple of years to measure their steps. Walking two million steps a year saves staff £800 in lower health-related fees. Last year, US supermarket giant Safeway started offering health premium discounts of up to 20% to workers who do not smoke and meet company benchmarks for weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.

 

It’s good that workplaces are helping people be healthier but awful if poor health further affects employees’ standing. Even more so when we know poor health is associated with lower economic and social status.

 

But you have to let them in

But how intrusive is it actually? Like vampires – you have to let them in. And we probably will. The Guardian quotes Jason Levy of Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness: “Given our history and the path we’re on, we will openly invite technologies into our bodies that can without a doubt be used to spy on us,” Again, like vampires – insurance companies are crafty and they will find their own ways to get you to let them in. Not using apps could easily be seen as a deviation or an act of concealment punishable by higher premiums.

 

Well anyway, I am letting them in for now, I intend to keep showing that buzz who’s boss via LumoLift – until I walk like I swallowed a ruler. Watch me all you like New India Assurance!

 

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