I just read an interesting article from the July 2009 issue of Wired Magazine titled "The Nike Experiment: How the Shoe Giant Unleashed the Power of Personal Metrics." The article, written by Mark McClusky, discusses the development of the Nike+ training device, and how it has revolutionized the running experience for many people (view my review of Nike+). What I found particularly interesting in the article was the discussion of a phenomenon known as the "Hawthorne Effect." This is how McClusky describes it:
"The gist of the idea is that people change their behavior—often for the better—when they are being observed (which is why it's sometimes called the observer effect)...After reading this, I got to thinking about how Nike+ and my Garmin Forerunner 205 were both integral to my development as a runner over the past 2 years, and how the ability to collect real-time data on my runs appeals to my inner stats-geek. Being able to record my run data helps a great deal, and viewing my Garmin data in Sportracks lets me know exactly when I've been slacking off, and can provide a much needed slap in the face to get me back on track. In a strange way, my Garmin acts as an outside observer, and it keeps me honest (and I'm not unique in this - several people on Dailymile.com have gone so far as to name their Garmins).
...When you lace up your running shoes outfitted with the Nike+ sensor and fire up your iPod, you're both the researcher and the subject—a self-contained experimental system. And what you're likely to find is that the Hawthorne effect kicks in. You're actively observing yourself, and just that fact not only provides information you can act on but also may modify your behavior. That's the power of Living by Numbers."
Even moreso than my Garmin 205, I have found that the running communities on Twitter and Dailymile have been incredibly supportive and motivating, and they keep me going as well. I actually feel guilty when I take a day off and don't have anything to post on my Dailymile training log - it's sad, I know. For me, the mutual support provided by the on-line running community was a totally unexpected benefit of social networking, and it has become my primary reason for using these outlets lately.
To end, I have to agree with McClusky's idea that the Hawthorne Effect is a powerful motivator, and it applies to running and exercise perfectly. Technology and the internet, long viewed as killers of activity and promoters of laziness, have in my case at least had the opposite effect. As long as I know someone is keeping tabs on me, whether it be the device on my wrist or running friends in cyberspace, I'll keep logging in the miles.
If you haven't already seen it, you can read "The Nike Experiment: How the Shoe Giant Unleashed the Power of Personal Metrics," by Mark McClusky, on the Wired Website by clicking here.
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