“There is a better you in you”: Promises and Ideologies of Self-Tracking Technologies

Keywords: self-tracking, lifelogging, wearable technology, promises, ideologies, visual semiotics


Self-tracking describes capturing and analysing the body and life using digital technologies. Its popularity is propelled by the widespread availability of enabling technologies like smartwatches or fitness-trackers. However, given the broad consensus on the co-productive relationship between technologies and social realities, reducing this phenomenon to technological feasibility alone would be inappropriate. This paper explores self-tracking by investigating its enculturated meanings, focusing on Western Europe. For this purpose, we analysed promises behind self-tracking technologies articulated in TV-commercials considering their relation to the late-modern socio-material constitution. The findings suggest that self-tracking addresses several ideal-typical late-modern problems, like the contingency of everyday living. Self-tracking technologies promise to counteract these problems by employing number-based rationalisation strategies. They aim to increase and condense performance capacities and activate the users. Thereby, they turn out to be technologies of an instrumental reason attempting to counter collective issues by optimising the individual.

Author Biographies

Max Dorfmann, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano

Max Dorfmann is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Engineering at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano re-searching on the possibilities and forms of emancipatory datafication and self-tracking practices.

María Menéndez-Blanco, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano

María Menéndez-Blanco is an Assistant Professor at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano (Italy). Her research focuses on how digital technologies can enable, or hinder, processes of participation. She is especially interested in how technologies shape and produce forms of discrimination. She has published over 30 peer-reviewed papers in conferences and journals and participates in the organization of international conferences in the fields of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer-Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW).

Antonella De Angeli, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano

Antonella De Angeli is Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, where she also chairs the Ethical Committee board. Her research involves a humanistic exploration of technology. It brings humans to the forefront of development while grounding in education as the key element of civic participation and participatory design as a way to promote democratic activism. She holds a PhD in Experimental Psychology from the University of Trieste (Italy) where she also completed a 2-year post-doctoral research in Applied Cognitive Psychology. After 4-year industrial experience at the Advanced Technology and Research group of NCR Ltd (UK) as senior HCI researcher, her academic career included the University of Manchester (2004-2007 School of Informatics Lecturer; 2007-2009 Manchester Business School Senior Lecturer), the University of Trento (2009-2018 Associate Professor) and the University of Lincoln (2015-2018 Professor of Human-Computer Interaction). Antonella has a track record of successful social innovation projects, including the H2020 PieNews (p.i) and Acanto projects, the MIUR Infanzia Digitales and Citta’ Educante, and the FP7 Servface.