The Optimizable Self: How Fitbit Shapes an Ideological Understanding of the Body
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In this thesis, I analyze the phenomenon of using self-tracking technologies to optimize the body. Specifically, I focus on how the Fitbit health and fitness tracker shapes an ideological understanding of the body. First, I discuss the debate on self-tracking and self-optimization by focusing on the themes that define this practice. These include the process of datafication that turns bodily activities into data, how this works as an intervention that shapes ideas about health and fitness, what kind of subject position this creates, and how this process can turn health into an ideology. Second, I introduce my own perspective on self-tracking practices to show how self-tracking devices play a role as cultural artifacts in creating ideas around ‘normal’ bodies. I introduce the field of disability studies, focused on how the cultural model of disability turns the focus away from considering disability itself, to analyzing how normality is constructed through the concepts of ableism, the normate, and compulsory able- bodiedness. Third, I connect this perspective to a media analysis by showing how a self-tracking practice can be approached as a dispositif, consisting of the user, the technology, and the text. Finally, I conclude the dispositif analysis based on three points. One, I show how the Fitbit convinces its user of the credibility of its measurements. Second, I present a performative understanding of the Fitbit, as a device that brings a worldview into being when it is worn. Third, I show how Fitbit presents a paradox because while it aims to broaden the understanding of strength, its commercials do not part with a physical understanding, and its technology assesses all bodies based on one specific type of body. This highlights that Fitbit aligns with compulsory able-bodiedness, where the able-bodied position is ultimately considered best. This thesis underscores the importance of critically evaluating technologies as key players in shaping ideas of what normal bodies are.