An article in the July/August 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, "Is Google Making Us Stoopid?" by Nicholas Carr, has been the source of much discussion by publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Carr writes that Google and other search engines are creating a society of adults who, having access to far too much information and with too little time, can't focus their attention long enough to read a book or use their brains in a productive manner. He writes that these Internet applications create the illusion of getting more done while, in fact, the opposite is true. Although he says that the Internet has become a medium that can be powerful when used responsibly, he writes that tools like power browse and Twitter require people to use less of their brains and let computers take over critical thinking processes.
A rebuttal piece in The New York Times, "Technology Doesn't Dumb Us Down. It Frees our Minds" by Damon Darling, refutes much of what Carr ascertains. Darling says that the powerful tools provided by search engines and the ever-increasing capabilities of the Internet make it possible for people to think about and concentrate on what is truly important.
A related story in The New York Times on Nov. 2 reports that some computer companies are creating low-cost laptop options that will boot up to 10 times faster than current models. They are creating these faster systems because consumers expect computers to catch up with the instantaneous feedback that their cell phones and other PDA devices provide them.
Regardless of your philosophical leanings on this subject, one thing is certain: Your members are used to instant access — anywhere, anytime — and they want it quickly. I don't imagine that this trend will slow down, and it certainly will not reverse itself. True, the always-on way in which we live — reducing our down time while increasing distraction — is a partial cause of many stress-related disorders. Regardless, your members are used to it, want more speed and likely will not settle for less.
Our industry and its technology will not be affected by Carr's doom-and-gloom message. In fact, you must respond to your customers' desire for more opportunities to multi-task while they're exercising. Members are over-programmed, time starved and believe they have less time for exercise than ever. Millions of them believe that by using the Internet while doing other activities, they will stay ahead of the onslaught of e-mails and information that they believe they need.
My hope is that a tipping point will occur in which people will get back to being "in the moment" while they exercise. In the meantime, it is absolutely essential to give the customers what they want, and what they want is a whole lot more than touch screens and iPod compatibility. Various surveys and focus groups remind us that members want instant updates to news, events and financial information as well as the ability to communicate with others while exercising (via texts or e-mails). They also want faster access to an increasing amount of Web-based options and to be entertained in more creative ways.
Regardless of your stance on this subject, you cannot afford to ignore these requests. Unless a huge cultural shift occurs, clubs and manufacturers must respond with more robust Internet access, entertainment and Web tools with ever-increasing speed.
Most of your customers will not agree that Google is making them stupid, even if the evidence shows that technology can create more stress and less incentive to exercise. In the long run, we must choose the right technology for our members.
Gregory Florez is CEO of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services and First Fitness Inc., which was rated as the No. 1 health coaching online training service by The Wall Street Journal. Florez can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.