We presented a paper at the 12th Annual Conference of the German Society of Design Theory and Research (DGTF): Reassembling Relationships: People, Systems, Things in Potsdam on 16–17 October 2015. Below is the abstract:
Recent growth in the development of innovative technologies for healthcare and wellness have enabled the redesign and even the overall transformation of processes, services, and products for health-related activities. In this context, emerging trends in health technologies prioritize the empowerment of users to maintain their health and prevent any problems before they occur. For this purpose, emerging technologies become more and more personal and pervasive in users’ everyday lives, anytime anywhere (Connely et al., 2006; Varshney, 2007; Weiser, 1993; Fox & Duggan, 2012). Technological features such as context awareness, implicit and calm interaction and similar others play a crucial transformational role in product development (Weiser, 1993; Poslad, 2011). Mobility and wearability come to the fore as means to enable such features in ways that to fit the needs of health and wellness technologies, making it easier for the latter to maintain a constant connection with users’ lives (Consolvo et al., 2008; Kuru, 2013; Movassaghi et al., 2014). These technologies work constantly at the background, collect user data silently, and remind its presence only when necessary, dramatically changing current conceptions of human product interaction (Pellegrino, 2006; Weiser & Brown, 1997).
Such technological change has been increasingly blurring the boundaries between people, mobile technologies and their interaction by making technologies work as extensions of humans, and in turn, people as extensions of technologies. Thomas Fuchs (2006) compared the effects of these developments to schizophrenia, as they dissolve the boundaries of body and experience through constant, mobile and long-distance outward connectivity (as by Internet) and reify the patient/user’s subjectivity through constant inward monitoring of bodily and psychical processes (as by MRIs). Indeed, as users and mobile technologies get intertwined through the above mentioned technological interfaces, bodily processes are unearthed, explored, mapped, and represented to users so that they gain awareness on their bodily processes, with guidance to change or maintain these processes purposefully , and thus even reimagine themselves.
If we are not to follow Fuchs’ line of argumentation that argues for a pretechnological human authenticity, and accept the mutual construction of humanity and technology, such technologies of healthcare and wellness call for a systematic analysis in terms of their premises and effects. Indeed, one can say that these technologies have political implications in that they rely on and sustain today’s dominant biopolitical mode of governance that concerns itself with individuals’ health and well-being (Lemke, 2011; Foucault, 1980). On the other hand, as Verbeek (2012) formulates, an ethics of new technology has to differentiate between dominance and power, and acknowledge that a transparent and continuous companionship of human and technology enables the former to develop awareness of and thus actively construct itself.
Regarding the question of how and to what extent these technologies can and do empower their users in self-constitution while eluding dominating effects, the literature on their design and consumption focuses largely on the pragmatic aspects of interaction. This paper aims instead to present a systematic analysis, referring both to the theoretical framework discussed above and to human computer interaction studies in order to reveal how new positions and relationships are being established and transformed around these technologies. In order to do this, we examine a number of mobile health and wellness products, assessing their representations of bodily processes, especially as regards issues of transparency and empowerment. The selection of products is carried out based on the innovations in interaction that bring bodily processes into view. These include monitoring apps and products, which read bodily processes such as sleep cycles, heart rate, and brainwaves, rendering them graphically observable and manipulable to some extent; running and exercise apps that keeps track of routines while at the same time enabling creative connections, for example, amongst people or between people and landscape; and others, such as the Smartbra, which objectifies emotions to regulate eating behaviour. The analysis results in a unique systematic perspective that brings pragmatic and critical views together and thus fill the gap in the literature, especially on design.