Routine Quantification: Habit, Affect and Health



The third thematic discussion session of our international network meeting addressed the role of habit and repetition in online culture. Beginning by addressing ‘e-health’ and the quantified self, the discussion moved to the methodological challenges facing humanities scholars as they develop research methods attuned to online practices, cultures and media.

You can also hear audio from our sessions on The Politics of Digital Life and Time and Space Online.

0:00 – Leone Ridsdale introduces the session

01:39 – Paul Arthur notes how easy it is to cheat and trick fitness apps.

02:25  Margaretta Jolly raises the issue of repetition, and the capacity of digital technology to reveal the nature of ‘dailiness.’ In asking how to study repetition she points to two critics she has found useful, referencing Frederic Jameson’s notion of singularity and Henri Lefebvre’s concept of rhythmanalysis.

04:37 – Julie Rak posits Benjamin Franklin as a key figure in the pre-digital history of the quantified self, and suggests Nietzsche can help us to theorize the pleasures of repetition and ‘the ordinariness of the Internet.’

06:22 – Alex Georgakopoulou discusses repetition in relation to the tech industry’s logic of iteration. She also raises the social dimensions of online habits, using the example of the ‘ritualised appreciation’ of selfies – often considered a solipsistic genre – within friendship groups.

09:38 – Leigh Gilmore suggests e-health technologies encourage us to understand health in terms of optimization and fantasies of immortality.

11:20 -Leone Ridsdale discusses the UK government’s framing of health in terms of ‘self-education’ and responsibilization.

12:00 – Rachael Kent observes that quantified self technologies often mobilize social feelings of guilt and shame to encourage repetition, warning that the understanding of health they cultivate is not always grounded in scientific rationality

13:30 – Rob Gallagher asks whether the way that social media campaigns like #blacklivesmatter ritually highlight and counter toxic tropes in media reporting can be understood as a kind of ‘semiotic CBT,’ using repetition to change behaviours and affective climates

14:35 – Leone Ridsdale talks about the introduction of databases that allow doctors to explore how particular health issues affect patients in different demographics

15:36 – Rebecca Roach shares some questions raised by interviewing people with epilepsy who log their symptoms electronically. Should health be equated with control? Do such records constitute ‘machine life writing’ or sousveillance? What is the relationship between subject, body and machine?

17:51 – Clare Brant draws parallels with the popularity of apps that promise to render sleep patterns legible, and, by extension technologies that offer insights into states or aspects of selfhood that we don’t normally have conscious access to.

19:02 – Rebecca Roach suggests that in the case of epilepsy social stigma is attached to gaps in consciousness, meaning a different kind of self-knowledge is at stake by comparison with sleep apps.

19:33 – Julia Watson raises the issue of methodology in relation to online texts and media. What is the ‘text’ here? How are texts circulated and (re)used online? If we are working with interviews, how do we address issues of collaboration, complicity and mediation ?

21:22 – Claire Larsonneur asks how, for example, to study new forms of networked therapy emerging in response to mental health issues?

21:51 – Rebecca Roach raises the issue of methodology in relation to ethics protocols for multidisciplinary work, noting that where medicine and sociology think in terms of human subjects who need to be anonymised, literary critics think instead of texts whose authors should be acknowledged.

23:51 – Alexandra Georgakopoulou cites Annette Markham on the need to develop ‘remix methods’ able to cope with the eclecticism of the web and to encompass subjects and texts, representation and circulation, incidents and cultures.

27:04 –  Julie Rak supports the call for ‘mixed methods,’ and argues that the humanities – which are often bad at talking about method – need to acknowledge what they can bring to the multidisciplinary table methodologically.

29:06 – Clare Brant suggests that the way quantified self technologies privilege numbers over words poses a methodological problem for scholars used to dealing with phrases rather than figures.

30:06 – Sidonie Smith argues that humanities scholars trained in methods like close reading need to adapt to other modes of reading, and to learn to work collaboratively with coders, designers etc.

31:53 – Alfred Hornung argues that there are many instances in which older scholarly methods are still applicable, arguing that digital technologies are not as ubiquitous or transformative as we sometimes think.

34:02  – Amanda Lagerkvist suggests that, in terms of methodology, humanists can bring ‘vigilance’ to bear on cultures and technologies of quantification.

35:01 – Max Saunders suggests one key methodological question for studies of the Internet is determining what we call users/audiences. As he notes, while older models of readership and spectatorship no longer apply, the terms linger nevertheless.

36:40 – Julie Rak replies with a comment on Henry Jenkins’ use of the term ‘prosumer’ as a term meant to encompass both making and receiving content.

37:13 – Alexandra Georgakopoulou draws attention to work that adapts Erving Goffman in the attempt to development a language and methodology capable of accounting for the Web’s ‘multi-layered participation frameworks.’

38:42 – Craig Howes argues that scholars working on play and gaming have developed methods for thinking about the kinds of activities and roles being discussed.

39:55 – Alfred Hornung suggests the logic of quantification underpinning the standardization of European postgraduate education via the Bologna Process has led to a posthuman university system.

41:26 – Craig Howes on the importance of historizcizing quantification, and the University of London’s role in fostering this logic in the nineteenth century.

42:20 – Gillian Whitlock highlights the need to adapt humanities methods to attend to the testimony of things in the posthuman era.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Written by:

Prior to joining the Ego Media team, Rob worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Concordia University’s Technoculture, Art and Games... read more about: Robert Gallagher