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

Btihaj Ajana (2020)

Social Science Information. Online first

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.

Extract. “In a sense, corporate wellness schemes can be regarded as an example of what Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello (2005) term the ‘new spirit’ of capitalism whereby labor and organizational culture start to take on new qualities and ethos rooted in concepts of engagement, meaningfulness of work, and opportunities for self-development at and through work. As Dominique Genelot (in Boltanski & Chiapello, 2005: 63) argues, organizations must now be ‘a site for creating meaning, for shared goals, where everyone can simultaneously develop their personal autonomy and contribute to the collective project’. So, in addition to their utilitarian aspect of cost reduction and increased productivity, corporate wellness schemes also appeal to the new spirit of capitalism in organizational culture which seek to give work a ‘more human orientation’ (Moore, 2018: 57) by providing employees with opportunities for self-improvement and instilling certain norms of health and team values. In doing so, these schemes also adhere to an ‘economy of convention’ (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006; Diaz-Bone, 2018) in which the actors involved (employees, managers, team members, etc.) have to achieve a common goal by undertaking activities based on established beliefs (e.g. exercise is good; teamwork is good) and frames of action that are mediated through established metrics and tracking technologies.” (p. 14)

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