Date

2015

Department or Program

Sociology

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Markella Rutherford

Abstract

Technological advances are heralded by some as hallmarks of societal progress and condemned by others as a perversion of nature and humanity. Neither of these polarizing narratives adequately describes the relationship of people and society to technology. In this thesis, I will use sociological analysis to push beyond clichéd cultural ideas about technology to critically examine quantified self wearable technology. Through wearable technology and quantified self practices, users reenchant their lives through the spectacular wonder of consumerism and the modern moral narratives of science and technology. However, the true relationship to analyze is not that between user and their technology, but user and the expert systems that create the technology. This relationship is characterized by the choice structures that contour a user’s behavior, constituting a method of control that produces a normative bodily style that users seek to attain through proper and morally-charged practices of self control. As expert systems form a transcendent authority, users gain meaning but lose power, and the increasing alienation they feel manifests itself in mistrust and ambivalence about the expert systems. Discursive negotiations that stem from this dual experience of mistrust and meaning, from concern over the changing nature of humanity to debates about personal privacy, create tension over the view of technology, which oscillates between utopia to dystopia. Ultimately, I seek to use this technology as a starting point to investigate meaning, control, freedom, and self in late modernity.

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