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“Big Mother” Gadgets To Keep You In Line

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – You’ve heard of Big Brother. Now, make way for “Big Mother.” Apps and gadgets have been designed to do what your mom always did, correct you when you stray off course.

Even though he’s all grown up, college student Zach Pope still appreciates an occasional reminder from his mom, such as “Stand up straight” or “Open the door for girls.” One thing Pope knows he needs a little help with is slowing down when he eats.

Since his mom isn’t always around for guidance, Pope says he likes using HAPIfork, a fork with a built-in sensor to remind him to slow down.

“It tracks how quickly you’re eating and can give you a gentle warning if maybe you’re gulping your food down,” said Lindsey Turrentine with CNET. Turrentine said the HAPIfork is just one of many devices designed to nudge you in the right direction.

“There’s this entire new world of sensor-based technology that can sort of ‘mother’ you by using tiny sensors to track your movements, things that you do in your everyday life,” said Turrentine. There’s even a device called “Mother,” which tracks sensors that users can put anywhere. “You could put a sensor on your child’s backpack, and it can tell you when your child walks in the door. You can put a sensor on a water glass and it can tell you how many sips of water you’ve taken throughout the day,” said Turrentine.

Other gadgets remind you to sit up straight or to put on sunscreen based on the UV forecast and your skin type. There are also toothbrushes that track how often and how long you brush your teeth.

“It also can do things like track multiple brushes in the house so that you can, say, create a race between your children. Who’s doing a better job brushing their teeth?” said Turrentine. Dr. Judith Stevens-Long is a professor of human development.

Her take is that while these devices have the potential to be motivational, she’s not quite convinced they’re effective.

“If your phone tells you to stand up straight and you’re not really motivated to make an improvement, you’re not going to do it,” said Stevens-Long. She points out that, unlike your real-life mom, digital mothering is easy to tune out once the novelty wears off.

“You get tired of it, it can be annoying,” said Stevens-Long. “You turn it off when you don’t want to do it.” Another issue is privacy. If you’re asked to input information online, remember to check out the company’s privacy policy. “Just make sure that you read the agreements carefully, and if you’re really paranoid about being hacked, don’t use them,” said Turrentine.

Pope said he thinks it works and sees a change in himself already. He’s even OK with a little helpful nagging from his real mom and considers the high-tech help “cool.”

“It’s a game factor. It makes it fun,” said Pope. Dr. Stevens-Long said keeping track of your own behavior with one of these devices can be very helpful. It can make you more accountable and help you look for patterns in your behavior you might not have even been aware of. Many of these gadgets are already on the market, and some are expected later this year.

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