Why the wellness movement is the next green movement

One way to keep people more healthy is the use of tech to develop good habits and make wellness more rewarding.

Commentary - The wellness movement is gathering momentum in the same way that the environmental movement did a decade ago. The national health crisis is now a matter of public policy debate, and it has attracted significant media attention as well as Silicon Valley talent and investment.

Yet the idea that Americans should take responsibility for improving their health and wellness is only just starting to take hold. Why? The answer might be that, as with encouraging people to adopt green habits, we needed first to find a way to make it just as rewarding in the short term as the long term. It wasn’t until people could save rather than spend by being green, and businesses could earn rather than lose profits, that being green became second nature.

Many of the ways wellness could soon become more rewarding are coming from tech, which may be why wellness is suddenly attracting Silicon Valley leaders and the venture money that funds their passions. It’s said that you can’t improve what you can’t measure, and until now there have been few devices and tools to make measurement simple for people to do in their daily lives.

Silicon Valley also knows a thing or two about keeping users in the game, even when the game involves work. The most addictive apps incorporate reward systems, which have driven people to devote untold precious hours to tending their Farmville acres. Those same apps are also social, which motivates players to out-till their friends.

Why not level-up your wellness score? Why not gain stature in an online community for investing in your own health? Online games are cool, but they don’t change the world. Applying their lessons to our nation’s health just might, and that may be why Firefox’s Aza Raskin left to found health feedback services company Massive Health and Microsoft executive Adam Bosworth joined Google to help people record their health efforts online. He then went to Keas, a social network that turns corporate wellness programs into a competitive game. It’s also why I left Eye-Fi to join Basis, which is developing technologies to help people track their performance against health goals and reward them for living better.

If the wellness movement continues to follow the environmental movement’s example, then we’re just at the beginning. The tipping point will come with the recognition that each of our activities adds to, or subtracts from, a national effort. Just as driving a hybrid car or putting out your recycling bin demonstrates your contribution to the health of the planet, wearing a device that monitors your daily activity, or participating in your company’s wellness program, might one day signal your personal commitment to the health of the nation.

If more tech leaders devote their energies to developing the tools to motivate people to get healthy and stay that way, they can have an enormous effect. When it comes to wellness, more competition isn’t a threat to each startup’s hopes of succeeding, it’s further evidence that more companies can thrive while they help individuals to do the same. Let the best tools win; if government and businesses adopt them for their employees, we can improve our nation’s health all the faster—one user at a time.

Jef Holove is the CEO of Basis.