The forced recall of the world’s most favoured product in wearable technology in 2014 – the FitBit Force – was highly controversial, with 1 in 100 users reporting skin irritation or rashes on the wrist that had daily contact with their FitBit. After the product was recalled scientists found that the rashes were most likely due to an allergic reaction to either the nickel, adhesives or other materials used the strap, and the product soon returned to shelves. Then in 2017, a woman who suffered second-degree burns when her FitBit allegedly caught fire prompted yet another investigation into the potential dangers of the device, which was taken up dutifully by the company before it deemed the product safe once more. And so, its success continued for a number of happy, consumeristic years, with the product continuing to skyrocket in popularity as users happily counted their steps, stairs and sleep wherever physically possible.
But in recent times controversy over the fitness device has once again flared up, this time over the many mysterious ‘EMF WiFi-related’ symptoms increasingly documented by users of FitBit. Among the electro-sensitivity and EMF-related symptoms reported by users include chronic headaches, tingling skin sensations, ringing ears, a static feeling in the brain, excessive fatigue, weakened immunity, unexplained hives and a straight out feeling of body pain. And, as the company recalls the product for the third time to investigate the growing number of claims, it forces us as consumers to question what we really know about wearable technology – a relatively new phenomenon in the health and fitness industry.
Worn 24 hours a day even while showering, swimming and sleeping, the FitBit and other wearable devices have been designed to monitor a wearer’s movements, to grow their knowledge and understanding of their own activities and behaviours. These wireless-enabled, wearable devices work to measure data including the number of steps walked in a day, the quality and quality of one’s sleep, and other personal metrics. And though there were no doubt multiple tests and studies conducted to assess whether or not the 24/7 wearing of such technology might have negative health implications, the product was released without any true understanding of the long-term implications on human health. After all, it’s virtually impossible that these products were invented so long ago that they have been successfully tested over the span of a human lifetime.
It doesn’t take much to recognize that the 24/7 wearing of a device that depends upon the constant streaming of Wi-Fi can’t be good for people. It’s also not the first time technology has been linked to negative health repercussions in recent years. In 2011, wireless WiFi radiation was classified a Group 2B Possible Carcinogen, and the following year saw scientists confirm that exposure to cell phone and other sources of WiFi radiation is capable of disrupting the Blood-Brain Barrier, causing it to leak. In July 2017, scientists announced there is “no safe level” of cell phone or wireless WiFi radiation for children or pregnant women.” Since people first began noting strange health concerns while living in ‘WiFi zones’ that couldn’t be explained by other lifestyle factors, WiFi radiation as well as other sources of electric pollution have consistently been classed as ‘unsafe for humans’.
Or are the health problems increasingly experienced by so many merely symptomatic of a much larger problem? Can contemporary lifestyles be to blame? In other words, our increasing dependence upon technology together with our growing defiance of manual labour and good old-fashioned hard work as a form of exercise?
We live in the information era where the abundance of knowledge available to us is simply overwhelming. Naturally, any new knowledge or concerns regarding product safety is bound to be met with countless experiments and consumer-driven research, as well as cynicism and panic. In recent years we have been told of the dangers of a paleo diet, that kale could in fact be bad for us, that microwaves cause cancer and that eating sushi while pregnant can be linked to miscarriage. It seems we are no longer living our healthiest life unless we are living off a diet of white meat, beans and yerba mate tea.
Too easily have we accepted that technology is the answer to all our problems: in business, lifestyle, health, even love. If one can’t find a man naturally, perhaps Bumble will help. We have app-enabled technologies, tech solutions and devices for simply everything – from cooking rice perfectly, to growing plants using solar power. But what if we are wrong? What is taking a step back from technology is in fact the answer?
The growing number and range of technologies available to us is certainly impressive and of course it is natural for people to want to buy the latest whatever-it-is as soon as it hits shelves in a bid to ‘have it all’. But to me the answer isn’t in having, but in not having. For thousands of years, humans have not only survived but thrived without technology. Surely we can strike a balance between good old fashioned, tech-free living and benefitting from those devices that truly do make our lives easier and healthier.