Do activity trackers make us care less about our real bodies?

The next conference talk I’ll be giving, at the Binocular 2016 conference, hosted jointly by York University and the University of Toronto, will explore the idea that by focusing on digitally recorded metrics via activity trackers as the primary means of measuring our “healthiness” we may in fact be losing sight of our actual bodies.

“Pointless Without My Fitbit”: The Rising Primacy and Perceived Objectivity of the Digital Body

As the relationship between our bodies and the digital world shifts, so too does our relationship to our bodies themselves. Personal health technologies focus the gaze directly on, and even into, the body while simultaneously virtualizing it. The act of wearing an activity tracker or sensor (e.g. Fitbit, Apple Watch, etc.) changes the wearer’s experience of the body and its boundaries. The body is no longer limited to just the corporeal individual, it is the physical body, the sensor placed on the body, and the digital body built from the data echo of the body’s states or movements. The boundary between the body and the world shifts from the edge of the skin to the edge of a silicone device strapped to the skin and into a virtual landscape, ultimately enmeshing the user as part of a digital assemblage or data hybrid. The day-­to-­day embodiment, performance, and experience of health by individuals may be profoundly altered by the practices of self-­tracking, quantification, and analysis of one’s self and one’s health as data, creating a digital body, that is perceived to be inherently objective. Drawing from ethnographic research among the Quantified Self community, this paper explores the primacy of the virtual over the physical in the pursuit of activity tracking statistics, and asks what happens if the two bodies, the corporeal and the digital, fall out of sync. Which body’s state is more “real” to the user, and which may be junk?

Ultimate Yogi: One Week of Ultimate

Thanks to running-induced plantar fasciitis I’ve been testing out zero-impact ways to stay active. After some yoga on a weight-lifting rest day I managed to rediscover my old love of yoga. Following a few weeks of my old standbys, Rodney Yee and the best Ashtanga DVD I’ve ever done, a friend mentioned that she was doing a program called Yoga Warrior 365.

I found a lot of great reviews, and I almost bought it. But several of the reviews also compared it to another program called The Ultimate Yogi, which reviewers claimed was harder. Naturally my ego kicked in. Harder, you say? That’s my kind of yoga! I started the 108 day program that afternoon.

Eight days later, it’s safe to say that I’m in love. The program features three 36-day blocks, each cycling through 7 of the 12 yoga practices included in the set. The practices are mostly 60 minutes long, with 5 days a week focused on different power yoga flows, one day focused on yin or restorative yoga, and one focused on restful yoga and meditation. The power yoga is no joke, driving my heart rate up over 150 beats per minute at times, with the usual vinyasa beatdown of upper body muscles and dancing warrior assault on thighs and glutes. The teacher, Travis Eliot, has a vocal inflection that’s eerily reminiscent of Matthew McConaughey, and a hippie/beach bum mode of speech that adds to the effect. Some may hate it, but I find it oddly charming and absolutely relaxing even when I’m groaning my way through the third minute of double pigeon.

Will I make it all the way to day 108? Judging from my history of getting bored with workout programs before completing them, probably not. I already miss heaving weights around and running through High Park. But given that after only a week of daily yoga practice I can feel both physical and mental benefits it’s likely that I’ll continue making time for daily yoga into the foreseeable future.