Scott’s Media Missive: TweetFit

“I am a 35 year old single mom, and I work full time in downtown Atlanta to support myself and my two beautiful children. In my twenties I used to exercise regularly, but since my divorce four years ago I often find that I am too exhausted to make it to the gym. My hectic marketing job keeps my workdays full; however, three days per week I get a whole hour off for lunch.”

Things haven’t been easy for Emily. Now on top of all the challenges she has faced, she was also putting on weight. And she felt bad about it—and that made her feel bad about herself.

Emily visited my class. No, not in person. Each semester when students do their capstone projects we require them to write what we call a “user case scenario.” They have to envision a specific person in their target group actually using their project. Although we encourage them to be detailed, normally we just get “Male, 30 year old, likes music” or “Female college student with an interest in fashion.” But one group this semester went much farther. They brought Emily to class.

Yes, Emily was a product of their imagination. But there was too much detail there to say she was completely hypothetical. The group that came up with Emily is all female—yes, in my capstone class this semester there are 22 women and 4 men. So this was a lucky group unencumbered by slow moving males. Their story had a realism that many of my students miss in considering their projects—and their futures. Their user case scenario showed that they had thought hard about what life might be like post graduation. From their story about Emily, it was clear that they were aware of some of the challenges that might await them.

TweetFitThis semester, we have tasked one of our Capstone classes with developing projects that use personal media (Facebook, Twitter, mobile media, and gaming) to help people make good health decisions. It has been a great class because instead of just talking about technology, many of our class discussions have centered around how to stay healthy. Frankly, many of these healthy, fit young people don’t understand why some people get obese and out of shape. For kids their age, it all seems so easy. Just go to the gym, right? Just get out and run. Just work out. Unfortunately, they don’t realize how many competing demands await them in their post graduation adulthood.

But with their story of Emily, the Twitter team really seemed to get it. They imagined what their future might be like. Kids. Jobs. Relationships. Lack of relationships. They get in the way of good health decisions. As that group talked about Emily, they saw how complicated staying healthy truly is. And they took all that into account when they developed their project.

TweetFit uses Twitter to push out suggestions for how to get healthier—during your lunch break. Users log on and tell the TweetFit when they usually eat lunch. Then a few minutes before lunch, TweetFit sends a suggestion for how to do something healthy during their lunch break—take the stairs, desk chair aerobics, stretching exercises. It is a simple system with modest goals. Get people doing something physical in the rare spare moments during their day. And just maybe, that increased activity level will carry over into other parts of the day.

The first time the Twitter Team read their story, Emily had just discovered TweetFit and was beginning to use it. The rest of the class was somber when they detailed the tough things in Emily’s life. But she liked the way TweetFit was making her feel. About a month later, the TweetFit team gave us an update on Emily. She had been using TweetFit and it had changed her life. She is exercising more even when she isn’t at work. And the best news is Emily has begun dating a doctor. And the TweetFit team was careful to point out he was a “real” doctor —an orthopedic surgeon — not a Ph.D. Ouch!

Scott Shamp is the Director of the New Media Institute in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. The New Media Institute is an interdisciplinary unit created to explore the creative, critical, and commercial implications of new digital communication technology. Shamp currently serves on the Board of the International Digital Media and Arts Association. He has been a member of iDMAa since its founding in 2003.
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