When I was asked last summer would I like to give “a short talk at an event being organised by the Science Gallery”, I didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation – I had really enjoyed working with the Science Gallery earlier this year on their RISK Lab, which featured Shimmer GSR sensors in many of the installations, so I knew it would be a great event. Had I been informed that the event was, in fact, TEDxDublin, to be hosted in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, and tickets were rapidly selling out, I most definitely would have hesitated!!
But, of course, the organisers had played their hand well and I was already committed before I got those all-important details, so, instead of wasting time wondering how 2000+ people sitting in a theatre would look from the stage, I took a deep breath and jumped straight into the burning question… “What is my idea worth spreading?”
Coffee and a catch-up with two of the event’s organisers, Ian Brunswick and Shaun O’Boyle of Science Gallery, helped to plant the seed. We chatted about how I got into this industry and where I see it going; how rapidly the technology is advancing and generating as many new questions as it does answers; how there is a growing lag between our increasing ability to measure new types of data and our efforts to interpret those data; the difference between the ability to sense and the insight needed to make sense.
It very quickly became clear to me that my idea worth spreading is that the best way forward for our healthcare systems is to embrace wearable technology now and move with the digital health revolution. By doing so, we will keep up with the technological advances and stay in the race; we will ensure that we are steering development with sound fundamentals and useful applications.
When it comes to adoption, I myself have a pretty cynical attitude to new technology – I believe that we should never accept anything on face value alone and that, just because it’s the ‘new big thing’, doesn’t mean that it really will change our lives for the better. But, despite all of this, my belief is that we need to open our eyes and see wearable technology as a normal part of our everyday routines and how we look after our health and wellness, instead of seeing it as a futuristic and suspicious invasion of our lives. Small, wearable, non-invasive devices can make us aware of ourselves in ways that have never been practically possible until today and, as the old adage goes, “forewarned is forearmed”.
When I sat down with William Lyons, CMO of Shimmer, to pick his brain on the topic, he outlined his vision of “aWearables” – a compact mash-up of the three fundamental features of digital health technology: aware, able, wearable. For me, this really sums up the message – by becoming aware of ourselves, we are enabled to make good choices; and wearables are making that possible.
I had my idea – that was the hard part done…or so I thought! Searching for references to back up my message and to help me to make it accessible to a very mixed audience opened up a Pandora’s box of new information and insights that I had not foreseen. The more I read, the more convinced I became that the wearable tech and quantified self movement is the best opportunity we have for dealing with the growing issues of an aging population, as well as an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and other behavioural patterns that are seriously damaging the health of our society. There is such a wealth of information out there and 15 minutes would never be enough to fit it all in!
Early rehearsals were a great opportunity to meet other speakers and brought a welcome sigh of relief all around as each of us realised that everyone else was equally unprepared. The TEDx organisers gave me invaluable advice about which parts of my talk would resonate best with a mixed audience and the mentoring I got from Rowan Manahan and Ian Brunswick was a huge help as I tried to very quickly learn the ropes at painting a picture with words, and using stories and analogies to bring my idea to life. Whether or not it worked on the day is up for debate!
When the big day arrived, nerves were running high! It was a unique experience, to be shared with a group of eleven other speakers – all strangers until a month before but suddenly developing a great sense of camaraderie by diving into this challenge together. William Lyons of Shimmer was kept busy in the lobby showing willing attendees how they could learn to play a tune in 10 seconds with a single Shimmer sensor and three easy wrist movements; the buzz around this and other demos added to overall excitement of the day. The variety of topics being discussed made for some really great food for thought but I must say I’m looking forward to returning next year to really listen to what’s being said instead of catching snippets from backstage!
I can now say I know what 2000 people in a theatre looks like from the stage – I am only sorry I didn’t take the opportunity to record my biophysical response with the Shimmer sensor on my wrist as I stood on the red dot! What happened during those 15 minutes can be seen on YouTube and was also creatively captured by the smart folks at www.smartwallpaint.co.za, as seen in the photo below:
All in all, the TEDx experience was a fun, challenging and eye-opening one. It forced me to delve deep into the opportunities and challenges that come hand-in-hand with the digital health revolution and gave me new perspectives on the wearable technology industry that I had not consciously considered before now.
It hardened my belief that technology is the way forward for health, for everyone from providers and payers to end-users, and it confirmed for me that I am working exactly where I want to be – in an industry with an exciting future, uncountable challenges and the potential to change, for the better, the way we all look after our health.