By Dickie Hewitt
It has become a common theme echoed across various social networks, as well as forming the basis of several key discussions at fitness industry events, get-togethers, and everyday calls and conversations. Technology-based or online offerings vs. live, in-person experience.
On one side are those championing digitisation, shouting from the rooftops of the metaverse about how those who refuse to embrace the increasingly powerful technological revolution, which tightened its societal hold as the world remained inside for two years and human contact was reduced to a socially-distanced-mask-covered-smile, will be left eating the gigadust.
On the other stands an army of those who have built businesses, offerings and careers on people. Real people, operating from the strength of a community and who find meaning in human touch and feel. They decry the technological tidal wave that travelled high in our direction when the pandemic destroyed the equilibrium of everyday life, pointing towards a residual spilling wave breaking upon the shores of a restored normality now that human behaviour can resume as-was.
The fitness industry now finds itself being jostled from either side of this modern juxtaposition, and thus requires a post-modern solution. Postmodernism rejects the idea that one must be defined by the other, and the solution is to embrace exactly this way of thinking.
Why should technology-based and online fitness, training and wellbeing offerings be defined or measured against their In-Real-Life (IRL) counterparts?
Instead, should we not be learning how best to understand and harness technology? How to use it to enhance the IRL experience and thus provide solutions that give people what they want, which is essentially a hybrid model that incorporates both elements. We want the convenience of a predetermined, high-quality offering and we want it at a moment’s notice. We also want the care and attention of other human beings.
Today’s world is fast-paced and largely driven by that need for convenience. It’s why short-form cricket has become so popular. It’s why the big-shop can now be delivered directly to your door. It’s why we have an App for literally everything.
Sociologists have pointed towards this need for convenience as something that has McDonaldised our everyday lives. We rely on the services we use to be efficient, calculable and predictable (just think of any trip to McDonalds and it ticks all of these boxes, every time), essentially handing over control to the service-provider.
Those who stand against the growing influence of technology-led offerings in the fitness world argue that in relying on this, we lose the ‘human’ element that our physical and mental wellbeing require. We lose the sense of community and camaraderie that being part of a real club with real members who train together can provide. They stand proudly alone as the last bastion of humanity and rally against the technological revolution.
Although instead of being hesitant or reticent to embrace the growing influence of technology in this particular space, we should embrace it, understand it and take advantage of it.
It can provide the very convenience that members require; a consistent, best-in-class technology-led delivery of a fitness product that can optimise training, while at the same time liberating the Operator from the stresses of creating that product and directing their focus instead into creating that community-feel the member still wants and needs.
Yes, businesses are built on people. Or rather, successful businesses are built on good people. People can also provide problems or issues; Operators are painfully aware of issues created by staff turnover, staff shortages, the consistency and quality of content creation or delivery of their product, training time and expense etc. It is so difficult to get this right all of the time, and it can feel like all of the time is being spent on it.
Utilising technology in the right areas and in the right way can ensure less time is spent on this, and allows Operators to focus on getting good people, as opposed to just getting people.
Significant ROI can be demonstrated from doing just this; dedicating areas or space to technology-led solutions that are convenient for the member, and facilitating this with good people who can complement the offering and create that community feel – but on whom the success of the offering does not explicitly depend.
It shouldn’t be a question of technology or online offerings vs. IRL. It should be a question of how we utilise technology to enhance the In-Real-Life experience.