Personal metrics: Users’ experiences and perceptions of self-tracking practices and data

By: Btihaj Ajana (King's College London)

November 2020

A new journal article by Btihaj Ajana based on survey study on self-tracking practices and the ideology of data sharing.

Full article available on: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0539018420959522#articleShareContainer

Abstract:

Self-tracking is becoming a prominent and ubiquitous feature in contemporary practices of health and wellness management. Over the last few years, we have witnessed a rapid development in digital tracking devices, apps and platforms, together with the emergence of health movements such as the Quantified Self. As the world is becoming increasingly ruled by metrics and data, we are becoming ever more reliant on technologies of tracking and measurement to manage and evaluate various spheres of our lives including work, leisure, performance, and health. In this article, I begin by briefly outlining some of the key theoretical approaches that have been informing the scholarly debates on the rise of self-tracking. I then move on to discuss at length the findings of an international survey study I conducted with users of self-tracking technologies to discuss the ways in which they perceive and experience these practices, and the various rationales behind their adoption of self-tracking in the first place. The article also addresses participants’ attitudes towards issues of privacy and data sharing and protection. These attitudes seem to be dominated by a lack of concern regarding the use and sharing of self-tracking data with third parties. Some of the overarching sentiments vis-à-vis these issues can be roughly categorized according to feelings of ‘trust’ towards companies and how they handle data, a sense of ‘resignation’ in the face of what is perceived as an all-encompassing and ubiquitous data use, feelings of ‘self-insignificance’ which translates into the belief that one’s data is of no value to others, and the familiar expression of ‘the innocent have nothing to hide’. Overall, this article highlights the benefits and risks of self-tracking practices as experienced and articulated by the participants, while providing a critical reflection on the rise of personal metrics and the culture of measurement and quantification.

COVID-19, Toxic Productivity & Technology Overload: Our New Visceral Digital Life

By: Rachael Kent (King's College London)

November 2020

Whether you are a regular user of social media, an educator, or internet and technology researcher, it was widely understood that the ubiquity of our digital life with our offline selves had become a pervasive dynamic relationship to navigate in our daily lives. If we thought that the datafication of life was firmly in progress with the increasing embedding of everyday digital devices – COVID-19 has accelerated that practical and affective trajectory to a visceral space. As a technology researcher, I was impelled to examine this phenomenological shift where individuals for the first time transitioned into and mediated much of their lives outside of the home via a digital screen. My empirical research interviewed participants between the age of 26 to 54 years of age, located across the UK and Australia during the early lockdown phase of the global COVID-19 pandemic (ref: MRA-19/20-18193). Social and family life, work, self-care, exercise, food delivery, retail; the digital platforms we turned towards to manage our lives, became extensions of our physical self, mediating communications and interactions, both personally and professionally. In turn, they became increasingly pervasive and habitual daily practices in isolation. Key findings from this research trace the developing hybridity of this new visceral digital life.

Immunitarianism: defence and sacrifice in the politics of Covid-19

By: Btihaj Ajana (King's College London)

July 2020

Pre-print paper available at https://osf.io/ax5mt/

doi: 10.31219/osf.io/ax5mt

 

Abstract: As witnessed over the recent months, immunity emerged as one of most highly debated topics in the current Covid-19 pandemic. Countries around the globe have been debating whether herd immunity or lockdown is the best response, as the race continues for developing a vaccine against coronavirus and as the economic costs of implementing strict containment measures are weighed against public health costs. What became evident all the more is that immunity is precisely what bridges between biological life and political life in the current climate, be it in terms of the contentious notion of herd immunity, the geopolitical struggle for vaccines, or the possible emergence of “Covid-elite”, i.e. holders of so-called “Immunity passports”. Immunity, as such, is certainly not only a matter of science and biology alone, but is inherently political in the way that pandemics themselves are often highly politicised. Drawing on the work of Roberto Esposito and other literature from the field of biopolitics, this paper provides a critical examination of the concept of immunity in light of the recent events, highlighting the intersections between the politics of defence and the politics of sacrifice which animate governments’ immunitary responses and public attitudes towards the Covid-19 pandemic. The paper ends with a discussion on the forms of solidarity that have been emerging during the current pandemic and their potential for an affirmative form of biopolitics.

 

 

 

Self-management for better health?

By: Niklas Trinkhaus

August 2019

A report on the keynote, ‘Self-management for better health? Reflections on the self-tracking culture’, by Btihaj Ajana for the conference, ‘The Futures of eHealth’.

The full report is available here

Interview article for the New Statesman

By: Dorian Lynskey

June 2019

Btihaj Ajana gave an interview about privacy, consent and the new surveillance technologies for the New Statesman. The full interview-based article by Dorian Lynskey can be accessed here

Hacking Life: Systematized Living and Its Discontents

By: Btihaj Ajana (King's College London)

April 2019

Review by Btihaj Ajana of the book, “Hacking Life: Systematized Living and Its Discontents” by Joseph M. Reagle, Jr. (2019). Full Review on The Times Higher Education:

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/books/hacking-life-systematized-living-and-its-discontents-joseph-m-reagle-jr-mit-press

Open data: a shared responsibility

By: Btihaj ajana (King's College London)

April 2019

Interview with Btihaj Ajana by the think tank, W.I.R.E, for Sanitas health insurance company. The interview focuses on the themes of Open Data and solidarity addressing some of the ethical issues around data sharing.

The full  transcript of the interview can be accessed here

Also available in French, German and Italian

New Book: “Metric Culture: Ontologies of Self-Tracking Practices”

By: Btihaj Ajana (King's College London)

September 2018

The new book Metric Culture: Ontoogies of Self-Tracking Pratices (Emerald, 2018) is edited by Btihaj Ajana following the international conference, Metric Culture: The Quantified Self and Beyond, held in June 2017  at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies. Book summary: We live in a “metric culture” where data, algorithms, and numbers play an unmistakably powerful role in defining, shaping and ruling the world we inhabit. Increasingly, governments across the globe are turning towards metric technologies to find solutions for managing various social domains such as healthcare and education. While private corporations are becoming more and more interested in the collection and analysis of data and metrics for profit generation and service optimisation. What is striking about this metric culture is that not only are governments and private companies the only actors interested in using metrics and data to control and manage individuals and populations, but individuals themselves are now choosing to voluntarily quantify themselves and their lives more than ever before, happily sharing the resulting data with others and actively turning themselves into projects of (self-) governance and surveillance.

 
Metric Culture is also not only about data and numbers alone but links to issues of power and control, to questions of value and agency, and to expressions of self and identity. This book provides a critical investigation into these issues examining what is driving the agenda of metric culture and how it is manifested in the different spheres of everyday life through self-tracking practices. Authors engage with a broad range of topics, examples, geographical contexts, and sites of analysis in order to account for the diversity and hybridity of metric culture and explore its various social, political and ethical implications.
 
 

Quantified patients? The transformation of patients in the metric culture

By: Gemma Hughes (University of Oxford)

December 2017

We all need healthcare at some point in our lives, whether due to illness, injury, or as part of the shared human experience of entering and exiting the world when we are born and when we die.   The provision of healthcare therefore affects each of us, and in very personal ways.  Although there are many expectations that people take care of their own health, optimising their wellbeing through good diet and sufficient exercise, we cannot heal ourselves when sick, provide our own medicine, surgery or nursing care.  Therefore, our needs for healthcare can only be met by interactions with other people. This is especially the case when we are very young, very old, or seriously ill, when we rely on others to help us.  The use and provision of healthcare is a social experience made up of encounters between people.  These encounters often reflect an asymmetric relationship, with the person seeking healthcare, the patient, in a position with fewer resources or less knowledge than the healthcare practitioner.   Organisations providing healthcare institutionalise this superior power over help-seeking patients in different ways, including controlling access to services.

New book: “Self-tracking: Empirical and Philosophical Investigations”

By: Btihaj Ajana (Ed) (King's College London)

October 2017

The new book Self-Tracking: Empirical and Philosophical Investigations (Palgrave, 2017) is edited by Btihaj Ajana and is partly an outcome of the AIAS Workshop, The Quantified Self and the Rise of Self-Tracking Culture (2016), organised by Btihaj Ajana during her fellowship at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies. The book is an empirical and philosophical investigation of self-tracking practices which aims to enhance understanding of this fast-growing trend by bringing together scholars who are working at the forefront of the critical study of self-tracking practices. Read more about the book here: http://www.springer.com/br/book/9783319653785

Buying (into) sleep apps

By: Antoinette Mary Fage-Butler (Aarhus University)

August 2017

Many of us experience poor sleep from time to time. As we toss and turn, we are likely to recall the many times in our lives we were told about the importance of getting sufficient sleep in order to be happy, healthy and productive, and that we have an obligation both to ourselves and to others to be “well-slept”.

As with many other aspects of our lives that are deemed to be functioning less well, apps have been produced to help those who suffer from poor sleep. Sleep apps typically include “sonic therapies” such as nature sounds, white noise and meditations. “Smart” alarms monitor your sleep to identify the best time in your sleep cycle to wake you up. Sleep trackers provide quantitative information about the duration of your sleep and sleep cycle patterns. Bedtime reminders are also a feature of some sleep apps.

This short article provides some reflections on the rising trend of sleep tracking.

Report on AIAS conference: “Metric Culture: The Quantified Self and Beyond”

By: Kylie Baldwin (De Montfort University)

June 2017

Metric Culture: The Quantified Self and Beyond was a three-day conference organised and run by Btihaj Ajana at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies on 7-9 June 2017. The conference brought together presenters and delegates from over a dozen different countries and across a significant number of different disciplines and areas of study including: Sociology, Media Studies, Science and Technology Studies, Computer Science, Public Health, and Marketing and Communications, with the aim of providing critical insights and nuanced reflections on the way metric culture is unfolding within and affecting the various spheres of everyday life. This is a report on the conference programme and activities.

Digital Health and the biopolitics of the Quantified Self

By: Btihaj Ajana (AIAS and KCL)

February 2017

A recently published article by Btihaj Ajana on Quantified Self practices and health in Digital Health Journal, vol.2 (1). Feb 2017.

Read the full article on: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2055207616689509

Abstract:

Recent years have witnessed an intensive growth of systems of measurement and an increasing integration of data processes into various spheres of everyday life. From smartphone apps that measure our activity and sleep, to digital devices that monitor our health and performance at the workplace, the culture of measurement is currently on the rise. Encouraged by movements such as the Quantified Self, whose motto is ‘self knowledge through numbers’, a growing number of people across the globe are embracing practices of self-quantification and tracking in the spirit of improving their wellbeing and productivity or charting their fitness progress. In this article, I examine the biopolitical aspects of the Quantified Self practices, exploring some of the ideologies and rationalities underlying self-tracking culture. I argue that such practices represent an instantiation of a ‘biopolitics of the self’ whereby the body is made amenable to management and monitoring techniques that often echo the ethos of neoliberalism. Rather than being restricted to an individualized form, self-tracking practices are also becoming part of a biosocial and communal phenomenon in which individuals are incited to share with others information about their physical activities and biodata. In exploring some examples of this data sharing culture, I critically address the extent to which the sharing of personal physical data can be seen as a ‘solidaristic’ act that can contribute to a larger Big Data ecosystem and inform the wider medical community and healthcare research and policy. I link this discussion to debates on ‘data philanthropy’, highlighting the emerging tension between philanthropic discourses of data sharing and issues of privacy. From here, I go on to discuss further ethical and political concerns, particularly in relation to data security and the marked shifts in healthcare responsibilities.

Keywords:

Big Data, biopolitics, digital health, healthcare, neoliberalism, Quantified Self, Quantified Us, privacy, self-tracking, solidarity

Gamification of Life

By: Btihaj Ajana (KCL and AIAS)

October 2016

On 13 October 2016 I run the panel event Life Gamified: Practices of the Quantified Self at the Arts and Humanities Festival at King’s College London. The theme of the Festival was “play” and we took this concept as the starting point of our discussion on the concept of gamification and its increasing infiltration into everyday activities, such as work, shopping, dating, learning, and exercising. The aim of the event was to look at practices of the Quantified Self as an example of the gamification of life itself and critically reflect on the various social, political and ethical implications of such practices.

Living in a “metric culture” (and CfP)

By: Btihaj Ajana (AIAS and KCL)

September 2016

Self-measurement and tracking have become commonplace practices in recent years. With the explosion of apps and devices enabling the data capturing and monitoring of the individual’s everyday activities, behaviours and habits, an increasing number of people around the world are embracing this culture of self-quantification and tracking in the spirit of improving their health and wellbeing, and charting their fitness progress.

Read more and find out about our forthcoming conference Metric Culture: The Quantified Self and Beyond here