, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 317–333 | Cite as

Data for life: Wearable technology and the design of self-care

  • Natasha Dow Schüll
Original Article


Over the last 5 years, wearable technology – comprising devices whose embedded sensors and analytic algorithms can track, analyze and guide wearers’ behavior – has increasingly captured the attention of venture capitalists, technology startups, established electronics companies and consumers. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted 2 years running at the Consumer Electronics Show and its Digital Health Summit, this article explores the vision of technologically assisted self-regulation that drives the design of wearable tracking technology. As key artifacts in a new cultural convergence of sensor technology and self-care that I call ‘data for life’, wearables are marketed as digital compasses whose continuous tracking capacities and big-data analytics can help consumers navigate the field of everyday choice making and better control how their bites, sips, steps and minutes of sleep add up to affect their health. By offering consumers a way to simultaneously embrace and outsource the task of lifestyle management, I argue, such products at once exemplify and short-circuit cultural ideals for individual responsibility and self-regulation.


digital health wearable technology self-tracking self-care big data 



Thanks to Paul Gardner, Richard Fadok, Linda Hogle and Rayna Rapp for their close readings and helpful suggestions as I worked to develop my initial ideas into a full-length article, and to Colin Koopman and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable revision pointers.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Natasha Dow Schüll
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Media, Culture and Communication, New York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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