Why 2014 will be the year of the quantified family
3 years ago
Simon Munk Consumer tech journalist, mountain biker, dad of two. Walthamstow
"Quantified self" gadgets are ones that track and, well, quantify you – your activity, your heartrate, your location and much more. Expect them to leap from the niche of fitness-tracking folk to not just to the mainstream of parents, but also to kids in a big way in 2014.
Quantified self gadgets are, for the most part, fitness trackers – devices that tell you, and optionally, your friends too, how far you've run, how high you've climbed, how fast you've descended. They can often also tell you where, when, how many calories and, crucially, graph how that compares to your last effort, or your friends'. You might have heard of the Nike+ FuelBand, Fitbit Flex or the Garmin Edge range. Or you might have seen quantified self apps and communities like Strava, RunKeeper or Polar's new Flow that track the data from these devices and/or your smartphone.
Using these devices and services, grown-ups are increasingly able to track how fast they can ride down a road (often recklessly fast, is the answer), compared to others in a "King Of the Mountain" league table on Strava; we can track our heartrate zones for fitness purposes over activities and time; we can share our running routes and times socially etc. Now, a new generation of pedometers and other quantified self gizmos such as the GeoPalz iBitz aims to bring the same type of tracking to the entire family, including kids too.
Fitness trackers are great – if you find motivation to keep fit or be healthy an issue. And with fast-increasing capabilities at a cheaper and cheaper price, plus a host of rival "smartwatch" devices due to deliver some of the functionality, and the social-networking side of telling friends how far you've run now increasingly over the tipping point of respectability, 2014 is set to be the year where everyone starts wearing a wrist device again – not just to tell the time, but log how fast you are getting around. There are obvious issues about applying the same tracking tech to kids though.
Most parents and gadget makers are hopefully aware enough to avoid the obvious pitfall – that of revealing your child's location or regular haunts online to strangers (although, do remember, "stranger danger" is far less in reality than "someone your child already knows danger"). Less obvious, perhaps is the idea that pressurising kids with targets and goals on a daily basis – over how far they walk or run, and how fast – isn't necessarily desirable, for your kids or others.
Kids are being quantified and tracked too much already. So while quantifiable self gadgets, if done right, can be part of the ways technology can encourage kids to get active, fit and healthy outdoors, they could also easily become another way to create elitist and bullying social networks.