Bronislaw Malinowksi, a controversial pioneer of cultural anthropology, once made the claim that the Trobriand islanders he studied had not made the connection between sexual activity and pregnancy. I’ve read other articles that have attempted to debunk that, as well as some that state the women of the tribe knew the deal, but for various reasons the men did not. Regardless, it isn’t as crazy a belief as it may seem, as it isn’t necessarily intuitive.
Beside, the process of conception is still, in some ways, kind of mysterious. Everyone knows perfectly healthy couples who try to get pregnant but have trouble doing so, and there are many more “surprises.” So it can be forgiven to not fully understand how things, work, or why. But, being fully modern citizens, we don’t have to accept there not being an answer to “why?” Mobile technology is here to help. Not surprisingly, perhaps, there is an app that hopes to help solve the inherent mystery of how to get pregnant. And in doing so, it allows us to ask if there is a limit to the kind of information we get from our devices.
Glow: A Virtual Midwife
Glow, a San Francisco startup, recently had a series of connected announcements. One was that their Series B fundraising had netted an impressive $17 million. This came on the heels of its summer announcement that it had crossed a huge mile-marker: it had helped 20,000 women conceive. This is a huge jump for a company that is not quite two years old. Last December it was at just 1000 women. This rolling success obviously sparked the imagination of investors, who see a kind of momentum.
It’s easy to understand why. Glow is an app that takes an enormous amount of information about a women – all the kind of info you’d expect to be asked of someone who is attempting to get pregnant, and possibly much more than you would. It is thorough and comprehensive, and synthesizes all that data to help a woman know when her peak fertility times are, to the day (and possibly even more specific).
No, granted, this is nothing terribly new. People have long known how to judge the rough period when it is better to try to conceive (or when to avoid certain activities). It’s natural family planning. In theory, it is possible for anyone to take all the data that Glow uses to try to figure things out on their own. There is really nothing new going on here.
That point is, though, that there doesn’t have to be anything new. Very few people, if anyone, would take the time, have the initiative, or even the knowledge to synthesize all these factors, and come up with their own calendar. Glow is extremely scientific and it has a success rate considerably more impressive than for people not using the app. It’s obviously not foolproof, and the prior link has some reservations about its self-selecting focus group, but it makes sense, and does so in a way that reveals the true power of these apps.
The Ubiquity of Knowledge
Think about your favorite apps. Most of them replicate something that you already do. Sure, there are millions that are frivolous and awesome that have nothing to do with your everyday life, unless you always have Bruce Campbell around to spout his lines at random, in which case, you’re so lucky, why do you need anything else? For the most part, though, the apps that you use everyday are based on a pre-existing need. They just make it easier.
That’s why health apps, especially in the form of wearable tech, are so popular. They aren’t creating new information. You could have carried a pedometer to see how far you’ve run (or just map it out in advance). People can check their heart-rate with a thumb and a vein. People can judge when it’s the best time to get pregnant.
The problem is that we generally don’t. It’s really hard. That isn’t an accusation of laziness; it is just a basic fact. I don’t have the knowledge or the ability to understand my health, or to use dozens of factors to understand when would be the best time to conceive. In theory, I could figure all that out, but for the most part, people don’t have the time.
Health apps are changing all that, and in doing so, are allowing us to understand ourselves in a radically different way. We provide the information, and get a comprehensive reading of our situation, with no real intermediaries. For the first time in human history, people are able to immediately get the kind of information, advice, and instructions that would have required dozens of different specialists – and was thus unobtainable to all but the extremely rich or connected. We have it all in our pockets.
Glow isn’t going to solve pregnancy. It just tilts the odds more in your favor. In some ways we are still just as in the dark about why things happen as primitive islanders. But we lean toward understanding. All anyone can ask for is the knowledge to improve their lives, and we now have apps that can do just that.