Events
History and Theory

Lifestyle Algorithms: Wearable Technology as Self-Regulation

History and Theory
12 Oct, 2017

Lifestyle Algorithms: Wearable Technology as Self-Regulation

Wearable technology – comprising devices whose embedded sensors and analytic algorithms can track, analyze and guide wearers’ actions – has increasingly captured the attention of venture capitalists, technology startups, established electronics companies, and consumers. An ever-expanding array of gadgets and apps gather real-time information from bodies and lives, convert this information into electrical signals, and run it through software programmed to detect otherwise imperceptible patterns of being and prompt users to down-regulate problematically excessive behavior—overeating, oversitting, overspending, over-engaging in social media. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted among self-trackers and device engineers, this talk explores the vision of technologically assisted self-regulation that drives the design and use of wearable tracking products. Wearables are marketed as digital thermostats whose continuous tracking capacities and behavioral algorithms can help users navigate the confounding, sometimes toxic landscape of everyday choice making and bring their daily micro-rhythms (steps, sips, bites, and breaths) into alignment with healthy ideals. By offering people a way to simultaneously embrace and outsource the task of lifestyle management, I argue, these algorithmically driven products at once exemplify and short-circuit cultural ideals for individual responsibility and self governance.

About Natasha Schüll

Natasha Dow Schüll is a cultural anthropologist and associate professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Her recent book, ADDICTION BY DESIGN: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (Princeton University Press 2012), draws on extended research among compulsive gamblers and the designers of the slot machines they play to explore the relationship between technology design and the experience of addiction. Her next book, KEEPING TRACK (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, expected late 2018), concerns the rise of digital self-tracking technologies and the new modes of introspection and self-governance they engender. Her documentary film, BUFFET: All You Can Eat Las Vegas, has screened multiple times on PBS and appeared in numerous film festivals.

Schüll graduated Summa Cum Laude from UC Berkeley’s Department of Anthropology in 1993 and returned to receive her PhD in 2003. She held postdoctoral positions as a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at Columbia University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy and as a fellow at NYU’s International Center for Advanced Studies. She was a professor at MIT from 2007–2015, before joining the faculty at New York University. Schüll’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, among other sources.

Schüll’s research and op-eds have been featured in such national media venues as 60 minutes, The New York Times, The Economist, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Capital Gazette, Financial Times, Forbes, Boston Globe, Salon, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Daily Herald, Las Vegas Sun, 99% Invisible, NPR, WGBH, and WNYC.

About the History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series

The History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series brings to campus leading humanities scholars working on issues of media transition and technological emergence. The series promotes new, interdisciplinary approaches to questions about the uses, meanings, causes, and effects of rapid or dramatic shifts in techno-infrastructure, information management, and forms of mediated expression. Presented by the Berkeley Center for New Media, these events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit: http://htnm-berkeley.com/

We are pleased to present the following lectures as part of this year's 2017-2018 season:

2017

10/12 | 4:00–6:00 PM | ​470 Stephens Hall
Keeping Track
with Natasha Schull
In partnership with CSTMS

10/17 | 1:00–5:00 PM | 310 Banatao Auditorium, Sutardja Dai Hall
Between the Digital and the Political: New Ecologies of Mind
with Erich Hoerl, Yuk Hui, Luciana Parisi
Panel Discussion
with David Bates & Warren Sack
With support from the Townsend Center and the Dean of Arts and Humanities

11/16 | 5:00–6:30 PM | BCNM Commons, 340 Moffitt Undergraduate Library
Porn Sequence
with Hoang Nguyen

2018

01/29 | 6:30–8:00 PM | Osher Auditorium, BAMPFA
Indexical Ambivalence
with Kris Paulsen
In partnership with the Arts, Technology, and Culture Colloquium

03/01 | 5:00–6:30 PM | BCNM Commons, 340 Moffitt Undergraduate Library
The Software Arts
with Warren Sack
In partnership with CSTMS

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