I have highjacked a colleague’s project this week to learn more about tagging. Interested in questions around data visualisation, he has made a wristband that measures movement and I am one of the lucky ones wearing it for seven days. I have never before worn any of the devices that measure and track heart rate, number of steps, sleeping patterns or whatever possible today. But I felt it was time to get off my high horse, seeing I was ranting about putting tags onto other people.
So, this is the device. As it is a prototype, it is quite clunky as are many of the devices developed in a medical context. Even though it does measure something else, I pretend it measures my position via GPS and see how -and if- this affects me. I wear it to aid someone else, but do not feel that it will benefit me, which seems to be a common scenario in which these products are worn. Carers feel more relief when their loved ones with dementia wear a tracker, but most people living with dementia interviewed do not feel they get something out of it.
I do not really know what it does, which in combination with its “black boxyness” creates a slightly paranoid tingle. I feel myself looking at it quite suspiciously wondering if it could make a noise -for example when the battery goes low- and what I would do if this happens. Even though I have read about this, it is quite interesting to experience this “not knowing” and I am amazed how easy it overwrites what I know about the device. I would not be surprised that this is just a latent paranoia in myself, but others I know wearing this or comparable device have been joking about this as well, so there may be something to it.
The first impression is that I less affected than I thought I would be. It is easier to forget I am wearing this than I thought. But this is also partly due to the fact that this does not do anything for me. The “function” that people might find me easier should I get lost, seemed very far away from my reality and not very useful. Even though I got lost once, I did not find it reassuring that this device might be useful should I get lost even more so, I wanted help (navigation, contact, reassurance) now. I think I can understand much better the opinion of people living with dementia who say that they are not interested in this device. Without any added function, this really does not do anything. The aspect that it might be beneficial in a context that no one wants to happen anyway does not really appeal. It is less an active resitance than more a lack of interest I assume.
In the university I wear this device quite openly as I know most people will have seen devices like these, at least heard about them or will most likely use them themselves. It is different outside though. I do not really completely hide it away, but I tend to become quite self-conscious when others look at it and it does instantly make me consider how this will change their view on me. And even though it would undoubtedly help if it were less black and clunky and kind of awkward, I wonder it it would be enough to make it prettier or if I would see through it and still wonder it everyone would notice what it is.
Even though I can take it off, I have been asked to wear if for the full 8 days, 24/7. This leaves me slightly out of control and I can fully understand the wish to be able to wear it when I decide to do so. (see Faucounau et.al, 2009 for more info on this. )
At no point in the week did I change my behaviour because of the device. And I did not find it as intrusive as I thought I would. I was kind of happy to wear it aid someone else. But it really did not do anything to assure me, rather led me feel a bit more vulnerable, a bit more in need of help. I had a perfectly good reason to explain to toally strangers who stared at my arm why I was wearing this, and I am happy that I did not have to go deeper and personal to explain why I had to. For me it was a rather neutral experience. It did not harm much, nor did I get something out of it.
In follow-up posts I will describe why I nonetheless see problems with this kind of low-level technology, even though it is not very uncomfortable on a personal level.