There is an explosion of self-directed tracking on smartphones and wearables. A whopping 110 million wearable sensors shipped in 2016. The links between off-the-shelf consumer digital activity and wellness tracking and so-called ‘N of 1’ science, individual self-experimentation. This talk reports results from a comparative study of the practices around self-tracking data among fitness advocates, elderly chronically ill patients in a telehealth programme, and primary care physicians. I use the findings from this research to motivate five key propositions for understanding self-tracking as citizen science with the potential to spark innovation and advance scientific knowledge. I will draw on the practices of ‘Quantified Self’ experimenters to show why so much commercial self-tracking often fails to deliver meaningful information and what some people do get meaning from this data and why they sometimes hack these devices in ways at odds with how they were designed.
Professor Gina Neff is a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute and an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oxford. She is also a Senior Research Affiliate of Christ Church. She studies innovation, the digital transformation of industries, and how new technologies impact work. She has published three books and over three dozen research articles on innovation and the impact of digital transformation. Her book Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries (MIT Press, 2012) about the rise of internet industries in New York City, won the 2013 American Sociological Association Communication and Information Technologies Best Book Award. Her book, Self-Tracking, co-authored with Dawn Nafus (MIT Press, 2016) focuses on the practices and politics of using consumer technologies to track health and other everyday personal metrics, and Science called it ‘excellent’ and ‘nuanced’. Professor Neff holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University where she remains a faculty affiliate of the Center on Organizational Innovation, and she has held faculty appointments at the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego. She has had fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study and the Center for Information Technology Policy. Her popular writing has appeared in Wired, The Atlantic, and Slate.