Edition number 24; dateline 2 December 2009
Strange love: how I learned to stop worrying and love technology
I have a new toy! An iPhone has come into my life to play with. It can almost make dinner; it can certainly tell me how to do it. And not only that, it is easy to use. I love it. With the arrival of this new gadget I have been reflecting on how ever we survived before all of the modern equipment we have now? How did I live my life without being able to link instantly to the internet? How did I survive without a touch-screen phone? Already that old Nokia is thrown to one side as obsolete – and that’s within a few days.
I don’t know about you but we almost have enough computers to have one in each room of the house. We have digital TVs, digital radios, ‘chips’ in everything; Play Stations, the Wii which directly interacts with you (and tells you how fat you are), cameras that link to the computers, broadband, WiFi, various printers, a robot vacuum cleaner. The list goes on and I am sure that most of you reading this are the same. And I am just talking about ‘stuff’ we have at home; I haven’t even got into the office yet. I need a satellite navigation unit to get to the office, I need a heart rate monitor for when I go out for a run at lunch time (or perhaps to monitor me when I am shouting at one of the gadgets), more computers, photocopiers, scanners, projectors, speakers for the computer and I need a camera attached or integrated into the computer and be connected to Skype for video conferencing.
When I am coaching, I might use computer read-outs to monitor the participants; we keep training logs electronically and we communicate through text, email and mobiles as some coaching is done remotely. We may also use video playback or a fancy GPS system that monitors the speed and heart rate of the performers as they throw themselves into endless training runs and rides. Of course, when we are in the gym we have to have a screen attached to our equipment to give us training information and allow us to watch TV while we build up the required sweat. And then, if you run a leisure facility, we need all the electronic wizardry that helps us with all of the endless monitoring, as well as security and ‘elf and safety’. Even our outreach coaches are now being asked to complete electronic registers.
It is all a bit overwhelming. Looking back twenty years (well perhaps a tad over but not much) we hardly had any of the above technology. All of my essays at university were hand-written, as was my dissertation, which was then sent off to be typed up on a ‘type-writer’ – a specialised job. If I wanted information, I had to go to the library and look it up in books and journals, with the most exciting tool being the microfiche machines. If I wanted to phone home, it meant a lengthy wait in a draughty corridor as I waited my turn to use the pay phone. I know, I know: I’ll soon be waxing lyrical about how I used to deliver bread to a 1,000 homes before breakfast, muck 13 horses out before school (I did!) and lived in a shoe box with the tune of the Hovis advert playing in the background. But I don’t want this to be a complaint about my youth and how hard it was because it wasn’t particularly. It was just different and I can’t believe how much things have changed in what is a very short period of time. If I converse with the older generation (see The Tub November 2009), the changes in technology since they were born are phenomenal. If you wanted to get a message to someone then it was either a letter, a telegram or you simply walked to the next village and passed it face-to-face. The odd person had a phone but it certainly not everyone; my grandparents never had a phone in their own home and they only departed in the mid-1990s, not so very long ago
I was with someone a short while ago who announced, “I’m a technophobe!” He appeared quite proud of this title he had adopted for himself. We sometimes hear the arguments for not having all of this technology, which range from “it stops us communicating face-to-face” to “it’s going to fry our brains”. I’m not sure about the frying brains issues but I am on the side of the fence that feels that this technology helps us communicate much better. It certainly helps me to keep in much better touch with colleagues, friends and family. It can also be really useful for people who have hearing difficulties to be able write a message rather than strain to hear on the phone. I love being able to use all the information given to me through technology and even being able to read a book or watch a film on my phone.
But we do have to be careful of technology, using it to support and make our lives better rather than being a slave to it. So, no, I won’t reply to an email at three in the morning. It is vital that both we and our staff don’t forget that we still need to talk to customers as human beings and not just through electronic formats; even young people like to talk rather than text every now and again. We also have to remember that many people still need to be shown how to use this ‘fancy new kit’ that adorns our facilities and remember that getting past the front door can even be scary for some people if we use cards and scanners. People have to come first. I love catching up with my friends on Facebook, by text and using email but I still want to, and do, see them in the flesh. We also need to provide areas and spaces for people to be away from the technology, areas where people can talk and interact together. And another thing: we have to remember that not everyone has a computer or access to the internet so having all of our information “on the net” isn’t the whole solution to communication. Just think how frustrating it is to be told, “You can see that on our website” or “You will have to look on the website” when you don’t have that little thing that sits and hums in the corner of your living room.
What for the future then? Well I’m for embracing the march forward with gadgets but the issues discussed above must be taken into consideration. We can and already do provide spaces where people can enjoy the technology we have in leisure together, like Wii nights in pubs, ten-pin bowling, areas in museums and galleries in which we can interact with technology. So all we need to do is keep embracing new technology, help our users and customers understand it and use it to make the leisure experience something we do with other people, with and without new technology. Easy, eh?
I’m off for a walk with my GPS system and my dog, who is not very technologically advanced. I may listen to some music on my iPod while I am walking or I may just listen to the countryside noises. I may take some photos with my camera on the phone or I may just stand and stare at the view. I love having the choices that technology brings but I can always switch everything off and just say “hello” to the person walking in the other direction.
Kay Adkins is an executive board member of a county sport partnership, chair of a CSN and a member of the interim board of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure. Kay is also managing director of KAM Ltd, which offers a range of support services in the sport and leisure industry working in volunteer/workforce development and facility development.
To find Tales from a Tub in previous issues please visit the Comment page.
Tales from a tub
the last word in contemplative comment on the leisure industry
Kay Adkins, hot tub technology correspondent