Science

Tech moves from data collection to behaviour modification

Would you listen to your fork if it said you were eating too quickly? That's the idea behind the Hapifork - just one of the many products that do more than just collect data, but aim to help correct behaviour on the spot.

Apps and software aim to not just track, but change our habits

The new Apple Watch is just one of many products that aims to not just track, but change our behaviour. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Would you listen to your fork if it said you were eating too quickly?

That's the idea behind the Hapifork - which links up to your phone via Bluetooth to store data about your eating habits, but also alerts you with lights and vibration when it thinks you're eating too fast.

It's just one of the many products you'll find today that do more than just collect data, but aim to help correct behaviour on the spot until a desired behaviour becomes a habit.

Other such devices include the Muse headband - which literally monitors your brainwaves and plays different sounds depending on your mood. Its primary function is to help you understand what's making you anxious or stressed when you go about your day.

And the new Apple Watch has a number of health-focused features, including an option to deliver a little bump on your wrist when you've been sitting for too long.

A reporter tries out the HAPIfork, which keeps track of the number of fork servings you take and how fast you’re eating. If you’re eating too fast, the fork vibrates and emits warning lights. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)
The trend has the attention of David Harris Smith. An assistant professor of communication studies and multimedia at McMaster University, he focuses on the emerging technologies that insert themselves into our day-to-day lives.

Technology is useful, but no cure-all

"One of the things that these apps are doing is kind of attempting to offload some of the deliberative effort, the work that goes into consciously reminding ourselves or consciously deciding we need to slow down," Smith says. "And I think this is actually wise."

However, that's only the beginning of the process of changing a habit, which is why Smith says these technologies are not a cure-all.

"I don't think we're going to discover anything special about the success rate of these kinds of applications," he says. "There still is a large component of willpower that's constantly demanded to say, 'Yes I will continue to adhere to using this app.'"

Smith says the technology you're using may well help you while you're using it, but you still have to commit to using it in the first place.

However, he says the technologies that focus on behavioural change are taking us in a good direction, because we're removing theories and speculation about our own behaviour.

"I think we can all be glad that we're now kind of departing the realm of magical thinking, and actually collecting and troving through our behaviours and our own personal biology for scientific facts about ourselves."

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