Lost in Perfection - Impact of Optimisation on Culture and Psyche. 2019, 85-104
In this chapter I give an account of the first ten years of the history of digital self-tracking (2007–2017) and bring to the fore an authoritarian dimension emerging from the current phase in its development. Adding a psychoanalytically informed focus on the role of anxiety and its containment to the existing approaches, I show the history of digital self-tracking as falling into three main phases. While, in the early days of the Quantified Self movement, the containment of chronic health problems took centre stage (phase one), the commodification of self-tracking in the form of fitness trackers and smart watches (phase two) has glossed over the initial logic of containment. By the same token, this logic has been spreading to increasingly more spheres of life, colonising users’ routines and practices with a general drive towards self-optimisation. Whereas fitness tracking is sold as a highly customised and personalised activity, online corporate surveillance and the selling of user data to third parties turns the self-optimisation endeavour into a decisively social one. Users know that their data travels and that it is being assessed by others, and this tacit knowledge turns self-optimisation into a moral issue: How fit do I have to be to be fit enough? It is at this point that private insurance companies are stepping in (phase three) with the suggestion of a trade-off: ‘Since you know that your data is up for grabs anyways, why not give it to us directly? In exchange we tell you exactly what to do and how fit to be. It is in the suggestion of this deal that I see the authoritarian dimension of digital self-tracking.