Beyond the Debate on Promises and Risks in Digital Health: Analysing the Psychological Function of Wearable Devices

  •  Maria del Rio Carral    
  •  Pauline Roux    
  •  Christine Bruchez    
  •  Marie Santiago-Delefosse    


In the past years, the recording and collection of physical and physiological data from the body through wearable devices has become an increasingly common health-related practice in contemporary Western societies. The rapid development of digital self-tracking technologies has given rise to the production of different scientific discourses. The analysis of 200 published articles has led to the definition of a continuum between “technophile-promises” and “technocritical-risks” representations. However, these representations include different views of corporeality and sociality. Beyond this debate, we propose an alternative theoretical framework that links corporeality and sociality. It interrogates the psychological function that wearable devices may take (or not) for subjects to which these “tools” are addressed. We argue that such psychological function must be embraced by taking into consideration of activity done by the users of these technologies, which engages meaning: It is not the device, but the user him/herself who is confronted to the interpretation of biometric data linked to his/her own body functions on the basis of concrete lived experience. Moreover, we discuss that the activity of users can only be analysed in the sociocultural context to which the associated practices relate (health, sports, play, medicalisation). The conclusion highlights the need to further study the appropriation process of new personal experimentation instruments as to better understand the potential collaborations, risks or resistances that users may develop.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.