Wearables, especially for fitness, have risen tremendously in popularity – and often been criticized as trendy products that never deliver on their promise.

Beyond health and fitness, I find them interesting tools for my #microexploration aims.

Of course there are problems – and misunderstandings.

Promises, Promises

That step counter?

It promises better fitness. It ends up driving people into odd gymnastics to still get those 10,000 daily steps? Or it just ends up in a drawer somewhere?

That GPS sports watch?

I have often seen people chase after reviews to find *the* perfect device that would record their running course exactly, down to the centimeter. And if it doesn’t have a feature, doesn’t get the desired – nay, demanded! – update, has any error in the GPS track, it’s loudly declared to be unusable!

It’s only too easy, in these times of social media pushing the silliest and most extreme of opinions ever-upwards, especially, to find such bizarre views and angry comments.

The Sensible View

For most people, wearables are probably just what they are: Little tools to track, motivate, help with training and health.

Watches and fitness bands appeal through their promise, of course.

Most people, I trust, still don’t hold their wearables responsible if they don’t get fitter or faster without doing something themselves (even if angry comments may give that impression).

#GetAtHome Devices

To me, fitness / health / sports wearables, GPS watches, all these devices, are even more, if only we take a closer look at them and their offerings:

They remind us of connections, give insight into links, which we often overlook.

Of course, they will serve a better purpose if we also (try to) use them to their full potential. This is a big part of the reason why I report on their performance and advise on how to use them at www.timeandtours.com.

At the very least, though, they can help us remember and learn more about ourselves and our place(s) in the world.

This certainly has been where my fascination with them came from.

This Beating Heart of Mine

My first interest was, probably like many people’s, just a bit of a geeky fascination with watches (and data). I took up running, and I wanted to know something about what I was doing.

In the process, I stumbled upon a heart rate watch.

This turned out interesting, with a side of concern, because my heart rate showed some oddities. It would regularly accelerate to new heights, and not only when I was standing under high voltage power lines.

(Those early sports watches got heart rate readings from unencoded chest straps, and those straps’ signal got disturbed by power lines.)

It would turn out to be nothing, but it was motivation to get myself checked and to pay more attention.

Lessons in Inner Data

In the process, I learned more about myself.

By now, long after, the lessons have been disparate, but both good:

Data as Control…

With sports watches, I have learned to guide training by heart rate (and more recently, power).

The effects of a lack of sleep, stress and recovery state – physiological and psychological factors in me as a body – have all become more familiar.

With more fitness and experience, I have also learned to know and listen to myself better.

… Without Getting Controlled by Data

This had the interesting effect of making a sports watch not always needed.

When I just want to move for fun, I don’t need exact heart rate data from a chest strap, I can just go, have fun, and know what I’m doing.

I still like to have the data of such runs recorded, not least for a bit of training planning – but because of that mix of learnings, the ability to let a watch track me with its display turned off has become a favorite feature.

Far and Fast… or Low and Slow

Next up in the development of sports watches – and my continuing use of them – came the addition of foot pods for speed and distance tracking.

I still wonder how much of the criticism of this technology came from people who suddenly had to face data telling them that they were going less far, less fast, than they had previously thought.

Disappointed or guided by that data, there was some more information gathered.

What a Distance actually Means

It was a first step into realizing more about one’s place in the world.

What 5k, 10k- or a marathon – really meant became much clearer when a run wasn’t only guided by time, as in “Today, I’m running for 45 minutes.”

The marathon distance was particularly informative for me, as I live 40 km from Vienna. It always seemed too far away to possibly run there…

Even, later, the distances expanded to ultramarathons – but those came with the next step in technology.

You Are *HERE

More recently (although, that is also 15 years by now), GPS technology moved onto the wrist – and with that came a host of possibilities for getting out into the world and putting oneself on the map.

With the tracking that GPS-enabled watches provide, it became possible and ever more easy to see one’s trails, after a workout or other outdoors pursuit.

It made it easier to visualize places visited (and run) around the world – especially as air travel became cheaper and, with that, more common.

It also made it more obvious how many places in the immediate surroundings are never visited; how much we only take certain paths, feel familiar with our surroundings, but haven’t seen most of them.

And There You Go!

GPS sports/outdoors watches added navigation capabilities and made it convenient and safer to explore new places.

To sit down at map software and see where other people had gone, to map out routes to try out oneself, to move and explore and then revisit the tracks. All that became not only possible, but even easy.

All Together

Wearables, with all of that, offer possibilites to engage, in more ways than one, with the world.

In moving in the world, be that for sports or travel or for discovery and microexploration, near or far.

In sitting down at the computer or smartphone, with memories, revisiting photos and videos – and recorded tracks!

In the connection between internal, bodily, function and outside movement in the world, health and exploration, discovery and guidance – that’s where I think wearables are particularly interesting.

As always, we just have to look closer, learn more, #GetAtHome in this world!