I spent the first part of the week at FORTUNE Brainstorm Tech in Aspen, a gathering of leaders and thinkers who seemed—to me, at least—to deliver nonstop insight and surprise for three solid days. (Here’s a landing page to our YouTube Channel, which can take you directly to some of these conversations.)
But one of the highlights for me happened to be off-camera: It was a roundtable discussion Tuesday afternoon on the “New Science of Fitness” with former professional cyclist George Hincapie, EXOS founder and president Mark Verstegen, HVMN CEO Geoff Woo, and Siobhan McFeeney, global leader for business transformation at tech firm Pivotal.
We talked about how better data tracking and interpretation can help us recover from injury much faster and improve mobility; how smarter data and mobile tech can enable us to be proactive in our health and help us avoid body breakdowns; how more personalized nutrition data and sensors can fine-tune our metabolisms and promote wellbeing…and well, noticing a theme here?
Yup, it was all about data and technology.
That is, until Siobhan McFeeney spoke up. I asked McFeeney, a serious amateur climber who has twice climbed Everest, how technology had changed her sport, and she said:
“I climbed my very first mountain many, many years ago. We had leather boots, which weren’t ideal. And then the first time I climbed Everest, we had plastic boots, which were amazing. They were phenomenal compared to what we had before. And then when I climbed the mountain in 2015, honestly it was unbelievable. Gear was warmer, lighter. The O2 sat [blood oxygen saturation] monitor was incredibly precise. We had space stuff, honestly. And I would see people at 27,000 feet, with their perfect technology telling them their blood oxygen level was in the teens—the machine is telling them to STOP and turn around!—and they’re saying, ‘Yeah, I think I can handle it.’ I’m like, ‘You’ve got about 15 minutes…um, to live.’ But human beings are human beings and I think that’s the wild card. The technology is amazing, the data is fantastic. And you still have to be able to draw your own line on yourself to make reasonable decisions under pressure.”
The next day, on the conference main-stage, the writer and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman was talking about how he’d arrived at the title for his most recent big-thinkin’ bestseller, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.
Friedman was used to setting up breakfast meetings with sources and just as used to having them show up late, he said. But on one particular morning, the delay allowed him some quiet reflection that let him eavesdrop on a neighboring table’s conversation—and, ultimately, to connect two disparate trains of thought in his mind that had been nagging at him for some time. When his guest arrived, spilling out apologies, Friedman thanked him for being late. It was just enough downtime to help him think clearly.
The downtime wasn’t planned; it was thrust upon him. But Friedman had seized upon the opportunity.
Later, he shared a lesson he’d learned from his teacher and moral coach Dov Seidman, the CEO of LRN. “When you press the pause button on a computer, it stops,” Seidman told him. “When you press the pause button on a human being, he or she goes.”
We talk a lot in our Brainstorm Health Daily column about the digital technology that’s going to change healthcare—and our lives. But in the end, none of that fancy high-tech stuff is going to save us from ourselves. Or make us better than ourselves.
In sum, there is no Human 2.0. There’s just the beta version, and I’d argue that’s a good thing.
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