When was the last time a magazine changed your life?

Back in June I was sitting at Reagan Airport waiting for an 8:00 a.m. flight to Houston for work. As is my custom when I’m in an airport, I decided to pick up a magazine to amuse myself for my day’s flights. Out of the blue I decided to pick up the July issue of Wired. Little did I know this $4.99 decision would change my life, or at the very least, my next few months.

wired coverPicture Source: Wired

To this point, I had never read Wired, or at least the print version. I had occasionally read articles on the Web site when people tweeted about them or passed them along by email. But the magazine drew me in: two people clad in sleek workout clothes donned the cover. Around the picture there were quite a few headlines that drew me in, being the information-seeking/somewhat media-savvy person that I am (emphasis on somewhat):

  • “Battle for the Web: Facebook vs. Google” (“Oooh, I use those!)
  • “United States of Data: Obama’s New CIO” (“Kinda cool… government and new media and information collide in the great unknown.)
  • The Nike+Apple Experiment: 1 Million Runners and Counting (“I’ve been hearing about this a lot lately. Time to find out what the fuss is about.”)

This was definitely going to be worth the $5 and then some.

I plunged right in to The Nike+ Experiment. It ensnared me from the opening paragraph. Even though I ran cross country in high school close to a decade ago, I found myself relating to the woman introduced right away: a once-225 pound mother who with the help of Nike+ found a love for running (through her love of gadgets and data), lost 80 pounds and was now training for a half marathon. “I can do that [train for a half marathon],” I thought to myself. “Maybe I just need the gadget.”

Now I’m not exactly 225 pounds (or have I been close for that matter… I cautiously add “yet”), but I’m not exactly a runner these days either. I’d say at the time I read this article I worked out something like once or twice a week. Geez I hope none of my high school sports coaches ever read this…

The article was fresh in my mind for a week after I read it. I kept thinking in the back of my mind, I need to get myself Nike+. I even read it again. And again about a month later. Finally, about a month ago, I decided it was time for me to bite the bullet and get the Nike+ system for myself.

[A brief aside: if I had known at the time that all you needed to get Nike+ was $29 and an iPod Nano*, which I already had, there’s no way I would have waited so long to make this purchase. I also later discovered you don’t even have to wear Nike or Nike+ enabled running shoes to use Nike+. You can attach the sensor to any shoelaces using this handy little sensor holder. The holder is only $5 or $6! I needed new running shoes though and as it turned out the ones I bought, despite being Adidas, had a built-in Nike+ sensor-sized indentation in the left shoe’s sole anyway, so I could just insert it the same way I would if I had Nike+ enabled running shoes. Special thanks to the staff at Pacers in Arlington for giving me the heads up!]

One thing I remembered from the article was “Nike has discovered that once a user uploads five runs to its Web site, they’ve gotten hooked on what their data tells them about themselves.” Sure enough, they were right. I’d say it took me less than five runs to get hooked, but it also took me two or three to understand how to dizzily operate the buttons on my Nano after running a few miles in the D.C. area summer humidity. Regardless, it didn’t take long to get into the data collection. As a lazy person who has failed numerous times at keeping fitness logs by hand, I must admit, this is the way to go. It does all the data collecting for you: tells you your pace per mile, measures distance, updates you on your progress while your running and should you set a personal record (PR) on your run, uses celebrities like Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong to congratulate you on your accomplishments. It even graphs your progress on the Nike+ site and lets you add comments, routes, weather and “how I felt” feedback with ease.

Another point in the article that resonated with me was the Hawthorne effect. According to Wired, “[t]he gist of the idea is that people change their behavior — often for the better — when they are being observed.” I for one, know I’m quite susceptible to the Hawthorne effect. One of the benefits of using the Nike+ Web site is the ability for a user to create his or her own goals. When I set the goal to run 25 miles in the next two weeks, I know it’s watching. And you know what? It makes me go out and pound the pavement, especially when I know a deadline is close to elapsing. Thanks to these goals I find myself on the treadmill at 10:30 p.m. so that I don’t fail to achieve a goal I set on the site. I haven’t failed yet, but I fear the (likely quite innocuous) consequences that will result when and if I fall short of a goal I set.

So in summary, the Wired article left me with two cravings — a desire for Nike+ and, as you may imagine, more Wired. Needless to say, I sent in my subscription postcard right away and am now getting a year’s worth for $10! Solid.

Bonus: on a somewhat unrelated note, the Somali Piracy article in the same issue was the coolest magazine layout design I may have ever seen (Check it out! And trust me, it’s worth the PDF download. The Web version of the article does it no justice). I can’t wait to see what gadget-y/social media-y/design-y excitement Wired’ll come up with next.

Stay tuned for more thoughts my own Nike+ experiment in the future. So far I’ve run 16 times for a total of around 44 miles in the month I’ve used Nike+. A drop in the bucket for most, but a start for me nonetheless. Later this month I’ll be competing in my first 5K in close to a decade. And with any stroke of luck, my first 10K race will soon be on the horizon. ‘Til then, happy trails!

* You don’t have to have a Nano, it’s just what I happened to already own (and as far as I know, all generations of the Nano work). The iPhone/iPod touch also works with Nike+, but if you have neither, you can also opt for the wristband instead.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “When was the last time a magazine changed your life?

  1. You don’t have to have a Nano? The box for Nike+ was so specific on that point, I just assumed there was some special gizmo in it that the iPhone didn’t have. Sweet!

    I’ve never been a runner, but I’m a great walker. I’d like to run a 5K someday, but my attempts at training for it have all failed. You may not have ever been 225lbs, but I was 240lbs back in 2000 and I was 215lbs just last fall. As of today, I’m 167lbs, thanks to diet, exercise, and the Hawthorne Effect (in the form of the “bodybugg” GSR/accelerometer).

    • Jen — I should have addressed this clearer in the post. Yes, it’s true you don’t have to have a Nano to use Nike+. If you have iPod Touch (2nd gen) or iPhone 3GS, your device can directly communicate with the shoe sensor (no need to plug-in anything external into your iPod Touch/iPhone): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nike%2B. That said, you probably still need to download an app for it to work.

      I hope my healthy month sticks into the future. The Hawthorne effect certainly helps. And so far, I’d have to say signing up for a race has only reinforced its motivating impact.

      Also, congratulations on your progress! I’m so impressed!

      Swangsta — Happy to be back! Now if only I could figure out how to get the Hawthorne effect to extend to my writing…

  2. Yes fresh new post from Sports Kate!

    I love Wired — their articles are thought-provoking and interesting instead of the usual fluff pieces that I find in other magazines. Their graphic design and illustrations are also top-notch, nerdy and geeky without being lame.

    I think the last magazine that did it for me was Vanity Fair. The photos, the stories, oh my!

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