Field Research: Insure/Unsure

During Cursor we will be developing cultural critique and examining the social implications of current trends in the quantified-self movement, attempting to negotiate the affective implications of this data labour. In this process we also intend to undertake intense field research into the current state and functionality of both Q-Self software and hardware.

These studies will include comparing various running/fitness tracking applications, but also trialling them on the various units through which they operate, currently this will involve using primarily Samsung and Apple devices. The research into these systems will inform the design and functionality of Cursor as an application. Part of the reason for our inquiry into these technologies is due to the arrival of accesible and (soon to be presumed) ubiquitous wearable tech, its arrival will expand and extend the ways in which we relate to our devices.

Wearable fitness tech has been around for a while now with companies such as FitBit, Jawbone, and Garmin becoming market leaders, and fashion brands like Nike also joining the market and then subsequently leaving again as quickly as they arrived. This cnet article gives a handy insight into how the wearable fitness tech market is shifting in advance of the Apple watches arrival. Many current firms are moving towards the software platform domain, making themselves compliant with Apple's Health Kit so as not to be totally swept away. Only FitBit has distinctly resisted this move attempting to focus on the streamlining their products to focus purely on fitness data capture rather than other 3rd party apps.

An interesting recent development is that Apple have had to reneg on their original aims of having the Apple watch be a comprehensive health monitoring tool. They have removed sensors that were aimed to gauge among other elements of our bodily functions such as blood pressure. In an article typical of techno-fetishism/fanaticism The Spector blames this on "over zealous" state legislators, but as the inaccuracy inherent in the Apple watche's sensors is indicative of the wider issue in the market. This misnomer has been quickly illustrated by a BBC reporter undertaking her own field research comparing a range of fitness trackers simultaneously. This level of incongruity between apps and sensors readings is not uncommon, any one who has used tracking apps will have experienced these sorts of fluctuations, even today as I look at my S Health App tells me I have walked 5,142 steps and my Moves app thinks I have walked 3,432. This is most likely due to Moves not being able to keep a consistent GPS signal to map my travels. The reason I bringing this up is that the implication of such variable results has far reaching ramifications.

As this article from 2014 highlights their is a free market interest in wearable tech being tethered to existing economies. In this instance it is the American health insurance market, as noted in the article they wish to replicate the automotive insurance industry's move to offer incentives to individuals willing to have their behaviour monitored. This incentivisation of self-disciplining is a worrying trend, although it is currently opt-in with enough of a societal swing this form of profiling will exaggerate the stratification between those able to submit themselves to such an toxic form of regulation, with those who don't even have rudimentary access to the technology, technology that is prohibitively expensive, further excluding the disadvantaged from participating in gaining monetary relief in areas they sorely need it. Although British citizens may read this thinking that it is an irrelevant development for them, it would be foolhardy to ignore the accelerating privatisation of our healthcare system which could quickly lead to this form of self-regulation being implemented through corporate deals between service providers and pushed upon us as a requirement of treatment. Ultimately this shift cannot occur until the sensors and software being used are judged to be accurate enough, and although they might not be currently at this level they are not far off!

In propogating this capital-driven ideology, Apple and alike are attempting to extract use-value out of the surplus-value of bodies that are willing and pliant. Although it is seemingly innocuous, these actions have possibly pervasive implications for society at large.