Almost every single time I’ve been out with friends recently, the conversation turns to technology and the vast canyon that drives us apart from young people (my 5 year old nephew is learning to code at school). Our universal fear is that we will very soon become dinosaurs in a futuristic, technologically driven world that we don’t understand.
It always starts the same way with quips and anecdotes about 2 year olds having a photographic memory for pass codes and toddlers reaching up to flat screen TV’s to ‘zoom’ in. Once that’s out of the way, that selfish gene invariably rears its ugly head and, in turn, we each try to justify the reasons our specific industries and career choices are definitely safe from bi-lingual, multi-tasking, high performing robots that are cheaper, faster, more efficient – and way less bitchy!
When it became my turn, I didn’t even try to defend it. Unlike a lot of my friends who can only speculate about what science might come up with next, in the fitness industry, it’s basically already here – and it’s only going to get better.
If you want to exercise from the comfort of your own home – you can choose from literally thousands of live and pre-recorded classes online. If it’s raining (horizontally) and you just can’t will yourself to get out on that big cycle ride you promised yourself, no problemo! Switch on the telly, set your bike up in the garage instead, and minutes later you’re climbing mountains in some of the world’s most beautiful spots (it’s always sunny there too!). This brilliant training software allows my cycling obsessed friends who live in Sydney, London and California to train ‘together’ religiously every week.
Fitness giant, Les Mills, has made it possible for studios to fill their classes, even at typically very quiet times of the day with pre-recorded fitness instructors beamed onto a giant screen. Previously, gyms would never have been able to justify paying a trained instructor to teach just a handful of people from 9-10pm on a Friday night, but as long as there’s a member of staff on site to press a button now, you’re good to go.
I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about how I might be affected by the fast evolving fitness industry. I’ve pondered whether I’ll even have a business at all in a few short years and I’ve concluded that while my job is undoubtedly on the line, group fitness and your role within it, is not.
Technology makes our lives easier in an amalgam of ways but when we talk of its ability to change, we barely stop to think about its emotional value and the effect this has on real people in real time.
Why bother getting on a long haul flight to America to visit your granddaughter when you see her every night on a screen? Why go to the real mountains to cycle with your friends who are now scattered around the globe when you cycle ‘together’ every week? And why do people, with the thousands of flexible online offerings available today, choose to leave their homes to go to an exercise class?
Hugging. It’s other things too, but mainly it’s hugging. In just this year alone, I have distributed hundreds of hugs (I like to think that hugging is just one of those things I’m naturally very good at). They’re comforting when you hear about a sick relative, the death of a loved one, a miscarriage, a heartbreak, joyous when you hear of a marriage proposal, a pregnancy, a dream job offer - and my personal favourite – hilarious when you turn up to class completely broken because you were out the night before celebrating your daughter’s epic A level results (*coughs* ‘Sandra!’ …hehe).
Last time I checked there was nothing in the virtual world that can simulate the history and love that comes from a real heart felt hug. There isn’t a piece of computer software that can look into another person’s glassy eyes and sense that just being there is enough. The fitness instructor beamed onto those screens can’t possibly know that it has taken you a year to pluck up the courage to get back on the exercise train after the birth of a child that has driven you to quiet insanity through sleep deprivation alone.
When someone walks into a Just Dance class for the first time, it is the warmth, openness and friendliness from real people that reassures and encourages them to keep going. We are a community who know and care about each other and, frankly, machines driven by the magical algorithms of the internet just don’t come close.
Before Charlie Chaplin wrote that beautiful speech in the film ‘The Great Dictator’ back in 1940, I feel quite sure he would’ve sat down with his pals and fantasised about the future in exactly the same way we are doing today. Re-watching it, I can’t help but think that, technology or not, things aren’t that different after all:
“We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost…”
- Charlie Chaplin, 1940
If you’re able to sneak away from whatever life is demanding of you today, pop the kettle on because I can’t think of a better way to spend 4:04 minutes.