Homo cyberneticus: our growing relationship with fitness trackers

How we discovered the dark side of wearable fitness trackers
Rikke Duus, UCL and Mike Cooray, Ashridge Business School

Really interesting article published in The Conversation recently about a study of 200 women and their usage of Fitbit tracking devices.  The women surveyed suggested that tracking devices, particularly those designed to be worn constantly, become incorporated into their sense of self.

“most users embraced the devices as part of themselves and stopped treating it as an external technology”.

 

The authors connect this finding to the research of Sherry Turkle on the Tethered Self and how this changes social existence and the nature of public space: from communal to collective.   Applied to the sporting domain, if more meaningful connections increasingly take place in a virtual realm, how will this change the experience of racing for example?

On the positive side the researchers found devices that measure activity can be encouraging companions and coaches. The potentially darker side effects include constraining our behaviour or devaluing activity if it isn’t logged.  These so-called ‘Always-On, Always on Me‘ devices may amplify some of these effects that are described as alarming, but I know a fair few people who might say similar things about their coach or training group!

This may say more about motivational effects of observation and accountability with regard to exercise goals than the technology itself, though this research does suggest Fitbit and social exercise does extend those same forces into the realm casual leisure participants.  It would also be interesting to tease out more what are the real differences between Web 2.0 type social monitoring and Web 3.0 type data monitoring and everyday wellbeing goals.

Whilst the findings from the research that are discussed are interesting, the most striking aspect of the article is the final hypothesis: that technology is changing the nature of humanity itself, potentially transforming homo sapiens into a new species that doesn’t solely rely on biological information processors to sustain, monitor and calibrate its life systems.

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