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The Qualified Self in Quantified Times: Implications of translating embodied wellness practices into technological experiences

Sat, September 2, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Exeter

Abstract

Current scholarship on quantified self tracking fluctuates between the pendulum of technological utopianism and sociological critique. In this paper, I seek to develop a more nuanced understanding of self-reflective technologies by comparatively analyzing the quantified self movement, which encourage users to quantitatively track physical activity, bodily information, and mood, with the explosion of wellness culture in the United States, in which practices such as yoga and meditation encourage qualitative attention to and control of bodily experience. Drawing upon Foucault’s history of self-care and self-reflection that are presented in The History of Sexuality, as well as ideas that are further developed in Technologies of the Self, I first explore what I call a “qualified self” movement, which preceded digital technologies and bears a striking resemblance to practices employed in contemporary wellness culture. I then argue that qualitative, subjective experience has struggled to gain legitimacy within contemporary technoscientific discourse, and that this marginalization has encouraged the mainstream adaptation of yoga and meditation into more quantifiable, regimented practices that can be understood by scientific research. Finally, taking a critical but open-minded stance, I use autoethnography to begin exploring the implications of recently released meditation applications (such as Buddhify, Calm, and Headspace) and consider how the design of these systems can influence subjective sensory experience of the body, identity, and health—for better or for worse. This research contributes to STS conversations about quantification, subjectivity, and technological mediation of identity and experience.

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