In recent years we see a growth in the use of Personal Informatics (also known or referred to as Quantified Self, lifelogging). Where people track specific elements of their lives, they gather data and analyze data. Most of these digital technologies have the aim to create awareness and behavior change. Positioning these digital technologies towards preventive healthcare and e-health in general. To deliver the promise of Personal Informatics in healthcare, these digital technologies will need to comply to different aspects as ‘The practices, meanings, discourses and technologies associated with self-tracking are inherently and inevitably the product of a broader social, cultural and political process’ (Lupton, 2014). In addition, the design and development of these devices need to trigger positive engagement with the user. Can we rethink data visualizations, create more meaning and context within the realm of these digital technologies? In this paper we would like to explore the combination or integration of socio-political aspects in a product design cycle of these digital technologies based on Value Sensitive Design.
Today data is surrounding us almost everywhere. We as users of different applications and devices feed the data machine. We track ourselves with devices and mobile apps, we produce news feeds about ourselves on numerous platforms, we are data, we are content.
As we create detailed digital profiles of ourselves we should think about what is happening with all this data. Is this data exploited, sold to data brokers, advertisers or is it used a s research material? Or is it just passive around us?
A whole new economy is rising out of our detailed digital profiles. Not only in the advertisement space, where this data is used to target us even more within our supposed field of interest, but also in our health space and workspace this data can be used for the better or worse. Ethics and privacy are elements that we need to consider more clearly. By considering aspects of ethics and privacy, can we lay a responsibility with the companies who produce and develop these devices and apps? Do we need to think about a new label especially for devices and apps targeted at the domains of health and workplaces that regulates and stipulates the conditions for development and design. A set of criteria to what these devices and apps have to comply? If we want to create trust within this environment for a wider adoption, it might be time to create more transparency in data ownership and the design and development of a new generation of products and services.
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A philosophic debate on ‘Self tracking cultures and the emergence of hybrid humans’ part of Being Human Festival, University of Liverpool December 10th 2015
A group of professors in law, sociologists and communication scientists came together to discuss and debate about self tracking cultures and the emergence of hybrid humans.
The intake of the debate was inspired on Deborah Lupton – The Quantified Self, 2012
As we covered different angles within this debate, I will try to recap them in this article.
Quantified Self or Personal Informatics we understand that people are gathering all sorts of data about themselves for different purposes and aims. Today Quantified Self is not an obscure domain anymore, it comes into different sectors such as the workplace, healthcare to name a few. Self tracking in itself is not a new phenomenon. People have being down this all the time, they track finances, the books they read, the films they go to. And setting goals for ourselves is something very popular during the Christmas and new year period. Today we have technology which facilitates all this and makes it maybe easier to track our lives and interests, but also very detailed. Our data is presented in data visualizations and frequency tables, we create data doubles so to speak, a digital data profile. In doing so we use different devices/wearable’s and apps and there are a lot of questions arising now all this gets more diffused in a population.
Some immediate thoughts, but not limited to this.
First, we leave a trace of data behind for ‘ourselves’ but also for ‘others’
Second, what do we learn from gathering our data?
Third, what is behind the data?
Fourth, who owns the data that we are gathering?
Fifth, what happens with the data?
A digital trace for ourselves but also for ‘others’
While self-tracking ourselves we leave a trace of data behind. We leave data behind on the servers from the companies that deliver the devices or the mobile apps. Some of the self-trackers also share their data on Social Networks such as Facebook or other. At moments we also want to create context, so we use photos Instagram or other photo applications, so we kind of create a digital online diary in the cloud. We can generate a construction of the self, a presentation of the self. Which presentation do we want to give?
This data can be interpreted in different ways and provoke different emotions with the user. What do we want to achieve with this data? Do we want to create a better self? If so, what does that mean? Are we striving for a certain role model, a role model that is maybe a hidden standard in the app or device we use? Will this data, presenting ourselves, make us happier and create a sense of well being? Will it confront us with someone who we don’t want to be?
Control and surveillance
As mentioned before, we leave a trace of data behind for ‘others’. Research shows that some personalities like the control aspect these devices create, depending on what is tracked. Other personalities get stressed out by this control. There is a duality within the self-tracking activity, furthermore there is this surveillance aspect. The data stored on private servers, mainly in the US and not under European legislation, where privacy for example is a different regulation. What happens with the data and who owns the data?
While Personal Informatics is entering different domains these questions get more important. Take the workplace for example where companies measure interactions between employees in a meeting. Who is leading and who Is quiet. The measurement of certain behavior of people could be interesting to learn more about certain behavior in a certain situation within a workplace, but if people get accountable for their behavior through self-tracking in so much detail with facts and figures to where does this lead? Will this become part of the evaluation process of an employee?
Is this not also the dream of every insurance company? If you don’t move the minimum 30 minutes per day, and you don’t burn X calories a day, your insurance will get higher because there is no change in your behavior? Are we going to a ‘Digital Health Capitalism, where health is the next commodity in all its aspects?
Behavior design within Personal Informatics?
All the devices and its software have an aim; they are developed to let the user do something. Most of them have Behavior Design aspect in it. It will trigger you or nudge you to start or to create new habits and routines. In itself this is a good aspect. To a certain extent people need nudges to do something more or better. But as with all new technology we as a user need to learn how to go about these new technologies and learn how to use them that it is a proper way for the involved user. We can change our lifestyles for the better, but also here there is this duality again, we can get obsessed about the data or change ourselves so much it is not sustainable and not matching with our original personality, hidden processes get ingrained in our everyday life. We then need to think is this what we want? Do we want to create the ideal body? Thinking about the hidden standards that might behind the thought of these apps, considering most of them are developed in the US California it might be an ideal body that is not an ideal body in another culture? And doing so what if we fail? Will this impact our self-esteem? Will we get worried because we set the goals to high for ourselves and don’t achieve. These algorithms are not emphatic nor compassionate and can be very blunt in that perspective.
Recently there has been some movement in the market of wearable devices. While this market had a fast growth, today there are some players who switch gears. Nike Fuel armband most probably will be discontinued over the next months. LarkLife was discontinued after a few months of its existence. Fitbit Force had a recall in the marktet because of rash induction. Rumors say that activity trackers will be more and more implemented in the smartphones. As wearable activity trackers are hard, usually they don’t have a screen where you can see your results immediately, there is always the synchronisation that has to take place. And apart from that, practise shows that after a 6 month period or earlier, the tracking devices are going into a drawer somewhere unused. I have some in mine as well.
I still use Runkeeper for my physical activity and BodyMedia for my sleep and activity tracking. Even though my data is more or less the same all the time, I just like to have that data now, it is an extra confirmation. Using Runkeeper as an extra app on the iPhone is mainly because of the data has a different presentation and there is also the availability of music that motivates me to run and do Tai Chi during my excercise. In addition I use Lift to keep track of my frequency on the excersise habit. I like Lift as a frequency tracker to see the difference in seasons and time availability. Something I need to pay attention to. So I tend towards mobile apps as well, although mobile apps can’t solve everything. In different areas we will still need wearables too, but maybe in different ways.
All in all if I reflect on my change in lifestyle I started in October 2012, the technology use was one aspect and made me curious on my results, but more importantly it is that 30 minutes in nature, in the calm, that makes me feel my day starts differently and I feel more happy during that day, that makes me continue doing this. The feel good aspects about doing the activity is the major trigger in continuing this! Technology is just a small aspect in the whole picture, to make it more complete.
I found the perfect spot to practise the activity, it is easy and accessible. And it fits in my planning (time availability) or I make it fit in my planning 🙂 .
I think this never happened before! When I woke up I did’t had the feeling that my sleepscore would be so high, although I felt I fell in a coma from the moment my head hit the pillow last night. I was really relaxed yesterday, especially in the evening. First I went to the hairdresser, and the guy who washes your hair, is really good in head massages, it is a real pleasure to feel his hands on your head, really smooth, no words for it really. After that went to the market to buy some good food, and then had a complete body massage. Getting rid off all the stress that I had in June and July and went home. Cooked watch some tele and went to bed around 11.00. I guess it was a nice day and spoiled my brain and body. Resulting in a 97 % sleep effeciency, just awesome!
My sleep effeciency rose by 6% to an 88% in August compared to June – July period. Although I haven’t slept more hours, but the quality was better. So what was so different in these months? Basically in June there were the exams for my Master to deal with. On top of that my mom had to be taking to the hospital and a few weeks after that went to a senior home. Alzheimer took over her life. So a lot on my mind. But maybe this is not all, because during these years I’m measuring my sleep my average is around 80-82 %. So these events I had in June- July did not had that big influence on my sleep, still I feel much calmer and naturally tired in the evening. Im curious how I will do in September – October when things get more busy again.