Tool, Toy & Tutor: Understanding Self-Tracking Devices

New article: Lyall, B. & Robards, B. (2017) ‘Tool, Toy & Tutor: Understanding Self-Tracking Devices’, Journal of Sociology:

This article comes from research by Ben Lyall as part of his Honours project. Ben has now gone on to begin a PhD, and so I’m sure there will be more from him in the future. It was a pleasure to work with Ben on this article, and help him develop his Honours and now PhD projects. Abstract below.

Since the advent of the smartphone, users have become accustomed to alerts, notifications and reminders to interact with their internet-connected devices. But how do people make sense of prompts to exercise, eat or sleep? Digital self-tracking is a phenomenon that has grown substantially in recent years. However, despite some notable exceptions, there is still little sociological research into how users of wearable devices and apps subjectively experience self-tracking. This article draws on findings from a small qualitative study with 11 participants to reveal eminent themes in how users make sense of their self-tracking. Utilising and extending Lupton’s theorising of self-tracking, we argue for triple roles of self-tracking devices; ‘tool’, ‘toy’ and ‘tutor’. This trichotomy helps to characterise the use of self-tracking devices and apps, allowing us to reflect on the wider, ongoing implications of self-tracking.