By: Dave Nelsen
It’s easy to forget (or fail to notice) just how much technology is changing our lives. Case in point:
Near the end of April 2020, as we humans were adapting to new rules dictated by something 10,000 times smaller than a grain of sand, my friend Andy sent me a text: “Do you have a mountain bike?”
I do have a mountain bike, but I hadn’t ridden it in years. I responded, “Yes. Want to borrow it?” In fact, Andy was interested in getting off the grid and into some exercise with me as his wingman. What a novel idea!
As a “techie” engineer (by training) / geek (proudly) / early adopter (“Honey, I had to ‘invest’ in that tech purchase, it’s my job to stay on top of this stuff.”), I appreciate as much as anyone the need to disengage periodically from our electronics. In case you hadn’t noticed, the constant interruptions (AKA notifications) are destroying our productivity and taking control of our brains. Hang tight – I’ll be right back after I check out this alert from Apple News…
Side note: The AI – artificial intelligence – is winning. Our biological computers (AKA brains) are no match for algorithms that are learning at an exponential rate across a shockingly large percentage of collective humanity how to command our attention. For example, TikTok users are reportedly spending an average of 52 minutes per day (or 80 minutes if you’re 4 to 15 years old) on the platform. Seriously … think about that! Is using essentially one of our sixteen waking hours each day to watch TikTok videos (to say nothing of other forms of social and media) a good way to spend the one life you’ve been given? I know! I sound like an old guy.
Back to Andy’s great idea. Yes, let’s get off the electronics and onto the bikes. We agreed when and where to meet by texting each other.
And then I navigated to the location using my favorite navigation app, Waze. And I made good use of the drive time by listening to podcasts on my iPhone (frequently “How I Built This” “Science Friday,” or “The Tim Ferriss Show,” among other favorites).
And finally, we were alone in nature, just Andy and me and our bikes (6 feet apart when not moving; more like 60 feet apart when in motion). Off the grid! Except, you can’t talk to each other when mountain biking… unless… you pop on your respective headsets and set up a call. “OK Google, call Dave Nelsen mobile.”
And neither of us had ridden in this park before but no worries… there’s a great app called Trailforks (see image below) that uses GPS to show exactly where you are. And Trail Forks conveniently color codes trails purple, green, blue, black or red to show their respective levels of difficulty. Side note: Take my word for it and steer clear of blacks and reds.
And the scenery is beautiful so we’re frequently stopping to take pictures with our smartphones. (“Andy, that’s a great one – be sure to share it with me via Google Photos app. Thanks!”)
One day in early summer, we were riding at North Park and my chain broke. Luckily, we were less than a mile from a fabulous bike shop called Pro Bike+Run North Park. They took pity on me a serviced my bike on demand. I was back in business with a new chain in less than an hour.
However, if I was not so unwilling to embrace new technology (ha ha) while mountain biking, I might have avoided the situation entirely. It turns out that this Internet of Things trend (IoT) has even come to mountain bikes. New IoT bikes can monitor chain utilization and performance and (theoretically) recommend service before a chain failure. While we’re at it, once you have such a system, you can verbally command your seat to raise and lower as you negotiate challenging terrain. How did anyone ever ride a mountain bike without that capability?
OK, that’s a little tongue-in-cheek but here’s what’s surprising. I had not noticed the degree to which technology had pervaded and frankly improved the mountain biking experience. Every week for many months, Andy and I selected a new destination we’d not ridden before. (Side note: the Pittsburgh region’s park and trail system is a great, untold story.) And yet we never got lost. Being able to talk the whole time while riding (well, maybe not during the super intense climbs) is a game changer. And being able to capture the memories digitally (including one day in full motion video with Andy’s GoPro)… let’s just say it’s a radically improved overall experience compared to mountain biking in the aughts and before.
Having shared this story, I had to think for a long time to see the takeaway as the machines have, so far, failed to tell me. I think it’s this. As trained engineers (computer science and systems engineering, respectively), Andy and I are comfortable early adopters of technology. Almost without considering it, we integrated technology into virtually every aspect of our before, during, and after riding adventures. Upon reflection, the experience is dramatically improved! 2-3 hours during each ride to discuss, if not resolve, the problems of the world, navigating each new course like seasoned experts…
There is, no doubt, a corresponding opportunity to improve every business by adopting and integrating technology. If this process is not natural to you, it’s time to step out of your comfort zone to explore and experiment. To be successful in business tomorrow, you’ll need to wield technology more effectively than your competitors. If you’re not already riding the curve, it’s time to get on that horse.
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