Walking through time: Fitbit apps, devices and material communication practices

O'Riordan, Kate Walking through time: Fitbit apps, devices and material communication practices. In: Morris, Jeremy and Murray, Sarah (eds.) Appified. University of Michigan Press. (Accepted)

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This chapter examines the shifting terrain of meaning-making around wearable sensors and applications, and their implication in an extended history of health and subjectivity. Although, apps, like sensors are available for multiple platforms, apps generally connotes mobile apps as distinct from website applications / interfaces. As the interface for a device like Fitbit, the difference between the app and dashboard has to be negotiated.

From 2011 through 2013 Fitbit was overwhelmingly framed in media coverage as an app. In the trade press it was part of the ‘app avant garde’ (Arnold 2011). In newspaper health and technology sections and magazines it was described in terms of playful appification: ‘If you’re appy and you know it’. By 2013 with the launch of wristband style sensors there was a turn to the language of devices and the emphasis is currently on the design of the device as an accessory. The ideal Fitbit subject has also shifted, from one less defined to a specific pre-occupation with women and images of femininity.

Fitbit started life as a pedometer, measuring and communicating steps walked and this core identity remains central to the product. It is this aspect that attaches it to a different history. The preoccupation with steps, on the one hand reinforces normative health messages in an era in which the figure of the couch potato and obesity are connected to the same media culture as the device. On the other hand it connects to a longer history of communication practices around walking, writing and femininity. It is striking that Dorothy Wordsworth’s diaries of 200 years ago start every entry with a reference to distances walked. Walking, and recording and communicating those walks as a daily practice has featured as an element of female subjectivity for at least the last 200 years, through journals, letters and novels. This chapter provides an analysis of the Fitbit upgrade to this mode of counting walks in relation to a figure of the female subject walking through time.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Media and Film
Research Centres and Groups: Sussex Humanities Lab
Subjects: H Social Sciences
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Depositing User: Kate O'Riordan
Date Deposited: 11 Dec 2017 16:32
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2017 16:32
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/71983

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