As if we didn’t have enough screens to waste our time on

By Catherine Orda | Photo by Daniel Apodaca /Unsplash

The point of digitization is constant change. Nobody knows (and sticks by) this principle better than the people over at Silicon Valley, and, with two tech startups introducing high-technology fitness equipment earlier this week, it’s not surprising to know that they’re the latest to tap into the home fitness market.

One of the startups, Tonal, has created a weightlifting machine that incorporates an interactive LED screen with electromagnetic weights and cables that can tell you—based on your heart rate—whether you should work harder or ease off. If you’re doing biceps curls for instance, the machine can decide to increase or reduce the weight you’re working with.

The machine is intelligent, no doubt, and at $2,995 (P161, 545), it’s also grossly expensive. Mirror, the other startup in question, has a machine that can stream yoga, Pilates, cardio, and lots of other strength workouts. It can also recommend classes based on a user’s preferences and fitness goals. This machine costs $1,495 (P80,663) and requires a $39 (P2,104) monthly subscription.

As early as its initial release, the people behind Mirror are already thinking of ways to make their products more versatile and multi-featured by eventually offering interactive media on fashion and even meditation. They don’t want their products to be just another “piece of gym equipment” but rather an “immersive platform.” They’re also hoping to soon increase digital engagement via “virtual high-fives.” It’s as if they’ve anticipated a very specific type of public flak—the kind that argues against the impersonal efficiency of technology and makes a case for the more personal coaching you get from a fellow human being.

It’s not a new argument. It’s almost too simple and overused and the writers behind Black Mirror have made a living by riffing on the same fundamental idea for many years now. But it’s a solid argument: The Tonal and Mirror machines, like the many fitness apps and technologies that precede them, can’t correct your posture or tell you that you’re doing that one yoga pose wrong. These seem like little things, but they nevertheless pose threats to an exerciser’s performance, health, and safety.

As early as its initial release, the people behind Mirror are already thinking of ways to make their products more versatile and multi-featured by eventually offering interactive media on fashion and even meditation. They don’t want their products to be just another “piece of gym equipment” but rather an “immersive platform.” They’re also hoping to soon increase digital engagement via “virtual high-fives.”

The virtual high-fives meanwhile seem like a cheap consolation if held in contrast to the kind of personal encouragement you can get from a good coach or even the people with whom you’re struggling in a workout class. Plus, there’s the cost of these machines—the sum of which would have been enough reason for us to not have gotten into the specifics of technology versus human interaction in the first place.

But the founders of Mirror and Tonal are smarter than that. They’ve created these expensive machines in spite of anticipated criticism because they know that there are some people who can and will spend on high-end home workout equipment. Few they may be, the people who can afford these machines can pool amounts that can make up for the large sums of capital that have gone into startups like Tonal and Mirror. In short, these companies are not likely to declare bankruptcy and are bound to share in the success of the ever-expanding fitness tech industry.

But then again capitalistic success may mean something entirely different for consumers. It may be a gross oversimplification but it’s a fact that the fitness tech industry thrives on and feeds off the physical insecurities of people. What about the health and safety of the people who can afford this technology?

We can criticize the industry all we want and proclaim that true fitness requires real human effort—but that’s not enough to overturn an entity made up of smart businessmen who can fool you into purchasing another LED screen by saying things like “We’re fundamentally reinventing strength training.”