Global judgements and ideas.

Quantified Self Athens

My presentation at Deleuze and Guattari: Refrains of Freedom

Email me if you are interested in citing this p.moore at

This paper looks at the recent rise in the use of wearable sensory technological devices, or wearable devices and other self-tracking technologies that I have turned into an acronym: WSTT. The technologies include devices linked to smartphone software apps. WSTT can be worn around wrists, set within fabrics or sewed under the skin. Tracking devices also take the form of wearable cameras taking location specific pictures, or lanyards and badges that generate a ‘social sensing platform’ across users. WSTT measure and track arousal and performance both mental and physical via accelerometers, Bluetooth, triangulation algorithms and infrared sensors.

One of the first of these devices was the Keyer in the 1970s which was a gloved cluster of keys transmitting Morse code. The ‘quantified self’ came into the cultural lexicon in 2008 but the stamp was put on it in 2007 with the first Quantified Self Conference in Silicon Valley. In publicity for this event Kevin Kelly stressed: ‘Real change will happen in individuals as they work through self-knowledge… of one’s body, mind and spirit… a rational path. Unless something can be measured, it cannot be improved’. Since then there has been a relative explosion in similar events as well as QS meet-ups in all large cities and the QS Europe conferences. Many devices have been invented and launched and indeed the much awaited Apple Watch was released today, The 2014 QS Conference in San Francisco included ‘Quantifying motivation with a smartwatch’, ‘Photo lifelogging’, ‘Grief and Mood Tracking’, ‘My Weight and Sleep’ and ‘Deciphering my brain fog’. The ‘most quantified man on earth’, Chris Dancy, is connected to over five sensors per day and is just as interested to know about the air around him as he is in knowing how much liquid he can drink before sleeping (and not have to get up for the loo).

I have broken down categories in which WSTT is used, firstly in fashion and garments; health and personal fitness; and the third, and increasingly of interest to investors, in workplaces. The workplace usage interests me the most because more than 13 million fitness tracking devices will be incorporated into workplace wellbeing programmes from 2014 – 2019 according to ABI research. Goldsmiths has conducted a project with Rackspace and in results indicate that

‘Wearable technologies are arguably the biggest trend since tablet computing, so it’s natural that employees and businesses will look to use these devices in the workplace. Using data generated from the devices, organisations can learn how human behaviours impact productivity, performance, well-being, and job satisfaction. Employees can demand work environments and hours be optimised to maximise their productivity and health and well-being.’ (Goldsmiths 2014)

But I have identified a chasm or a disjuncture across integration of WSTT into workplaces in its early iterations. On the one hand, white-collar professional workplaces identify WSTT with wellbeing initiatives where such items as FitBits are introduced for workers to use to improve fitness and health, indicating as has been demonstrated in academic management literature time and time again that healthier workers are happier workers. But are they more productive? This is what we all want to know. The Active Badge by Sociometric Solutions captures physical and spoken movements and face-to face interactions in the office, capturing excitement and intonation of voices with a very high level of accuracy. Movement around workspaces are also documented and in areas with higher density productivity levels are also looked at to identify how specific movements and interactions are linked to productivity and outputs. Data is used to improve management practices and activities.

On the other hand WSTT are increasingly used in the dirty, dark and dangerous (DDD) industries. Tesco made the headlines in 2013 for tracking warehouse workers’ productivity with the use of Motorola armbands in 300 sites across Great Britain and Ireland. Within one year it had reduced the need for full-time employees by 18 per cent thus rationalizing the workforce with the use of WSTT. At Amazon, Adam Littler, an undercover reporter, took a position as ‘picker’. The wearable device he was given told him what to collect and gave him a requisite number of seconds to collect the product. He indicated that he felt like he was being treated as a robot and that 11 hour shifts were common. The device tracked his picker rate and gave him warnings if he took too long or beeped if mistakes were made. Pickers are also penalized if toilet breaks are not recorded. One such picker indicated that ‘people were sweating buckets’ and throwing things around with interest in reaching the 200 point mark which means you have completed tasks twice as quickly as required. The health and safety questions are clear. It is also clear that the wellbeing dimension is absent from these sensory devices. Still a device worn on the arm, but certainly not used in the same way. Another example is the use of chips sewn into the skin of employees at, nicknamed ‘digital angels’ where infrared worked to allow a handful of exclusive employees into the security room of the company. While these devices were legalized for animals they had not yet been used for workers.

So how can we theorise the use of WSTT and the quantified self movement? It has occurred alongside the rise in workers’ precarity. Precarity is associated with reduced welfare provision, privatization and supposedly reciprocal contracts between flexible workers and management producing an effect of generalized hopelessness. Workers experience a chronic state of near collapse. It is made possible by lean production, outsourcing, deregulation, telepresence of highspeed communications, decentralised production, reduced wages, time-space collapse, present shock and the inability to plan one’s time via a range of new contracts such as ‘zero hours’. Precarity is disguised as smooth spaces of time but as numbering becomes subject we enter striated experiences as we quantify our ‘selves’. The work machine was made possible by the war machine, and Deleuze pointed out in ‘Postscript on Societies of Control’ that ‘the socio-technological study of the mechanisms of control… have to be categorical and to describe what is already in the process of substitution for the sites of enclosure’. Workers as self-controlling interiority are part of a work assemblage. WSTT regimes of assemblage are linked to data profiteering, whereby corporations become increasingly skilled at using data we produce often without full comprehension of what we have agreed to in using a device; diagnostic health and the implications of curtailing of spending on social services; surveillance within and across institutions such as education and prisons. Workers using WSTT enter into a collective assemblage of enunciation, incorporeal transformation attributed to bodies. Workers enter into a local assemblage as pulse, step and temperature are recorded by devices and inputted into software becoming a machinic assemblage where person becomes WSTT becomes person. At the point that the autonomic self is measured as related to work and production it becomes striated and made abstract: a physicosocial model of work that Deleuze and Guattari would indicate is an invention of the State apparatus. The Number has ‘always served to gain mastery over matter, to control its variation and movements… to submit them to the spatiotemporal framework of the State’. Capitalist expansion requires axiomisation or the subjection of qualitative processes of desire and becoming to particular quantitative systems of formal value. Capitalism is theorized as a system of disjunction that constantly decomposes social relations (Guattari 1984, 20). The use of WSTT in workplaces goes a step further than welltrodden Taylorist scientific management in this process by turning concrete labour into abstract labour and through a renewed consideration of the relationship between body and mind with mind as dominant. WSTT in workplaces requires renewed investigation we argue from a new materialist lens because the dominance of dualism in everyday life is reflected in the premise for self-quantification with a pathway cleared for further controls particularly over vulnerable people whose lives are increasingly precarious. We are looking at re-territorialising of the body and production which has the effect to stifle lines of flight. We are looking at privatization of mobility and neoliberalism made explicit, quantification as serpent rather than mole.

This presentation reflects the paper ‘Managing Precarity, the Politics of Wearables at Work’ co-authored with Andrew Robinson, my forthcoming monograph The Quantified Self at Work (Routledge) and ‘Unintended Consequences and the Dark Side of the Quantified Self’, written with Lukasz Piwek and commissioned by Sustainable Societies Network for the EPSRC.


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This entry was posted on April 27, 2015 by .
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