‘My Fitbit Thinks I Can Do Better!’ Do Health Promoting Wearable Technologies Support Personal Autonomy?

Philosophy and Technology 32 (1):23-38 (2019)
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This paper critically examines the extent to which health promoting wearable technologies can provide people with greater autonomy over their health. These devices are frequently presented as a means of expanding the possibilities people have for making healthier decisions and living healthier lives. We accept that by collecting, monitoring, analysing and displaying biomedical data, and by helping to underpin motivation, wearable technologies can support autonomy over health. However, we argue that their contribution in this regard is limited and that—even with respect to their ‘autonomy enhancing’ potential—these devices may deliver costs as well as benefits. We proceed by rehearsing the distinction that can be drawn between procedural autonomy and substantive-relational autonomy. While the information provided by wearable technologies may support deliberation and decision-making, in isolation these technologies do little to provide substantive opportunities to act and achieve better health. As a consequence, wearable technologies risk generating burdens of anxiety and stigma for their users and reproducing existing health inequalities. We then reexamine the extent to which wearable technologies actually support autonomous deliberation. We argue that wearable technologies that subject their users to biomedical and consumerist epistemologies, norms and values also risk undermining processes of genuinely autonomous deliberation.



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Alan Cribb
Victoria University of Manchester

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Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to the Actor-Network Theory.Bruno Latour - 2005 - Oxford, England and New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press.
Inequality Reexamined.Amartya Sen - 1927 - Oxford University Press UK.
Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry Frankfurt - 1971 - In Tim Crane & Katalin Farkas (eds.), Metaphysics: A Guide and Anthology. Oxford University Press.

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