House of Tracking

Caring for ourselves through everyday monitoring.

Tracking Ourselves? is a research project concerned with exploring the everyday practices of people who undertake self-monitoring.

We are interested in the social and cultural reasons for, and consequences of, our increasing engagement in self-monitoring for health, self-care and fitness.

Learn more
hand holding tape measure

The background -

Technologies for people to track or monitor their own health have become increasingly popular. In the past, these were mainly used by clinicians, to routinely measure their patients' blood pressure (BP), heart rate, blood glucose or oxygen. They are now available to all.

There are hopes that this kind of tracking might improve people's management of their own health and save healthcare costs. Yet, beyond studies undertaken through clinics or where devices are allocated to patients as part of research, there are still many questions about how and why people buy their own monitors, and engage in self-tracking in their personal lives.

We are interested in the social and cultural reasons for, and consequences of, our increasing engagement in self-monitoring for health, self-care and fitness. This project involved qualitative interviews and participants taking photographs of their monitoring activities (such as taking BP or weight measurements) over a period of six months.

feet on weighing scales

The key findings -

  1. Devices are purchased from a wide variety of places including pharmacies, supermarkets, online retailers, or borrowed from family, friends or colleagues. Sometimes, monitoring is done in an impromptu fashion, such as jumping on someone's bathroom scales or trying on their blood pressure monitor when visiting their house. Sometimes, people begin to self-monitor following a reading at the gym (such as a gym induction) or a health check at their local GP surgery.
  2. Where devices are used and stored is important. For instance, the device's location or where the device is placed might be used to encourage or discourage self-monitoring, if someone keeps it close to hand to increase the chances of taking a reading, or puts it away to keep it 'out of sight, out of mind'.
  3. Self-monitoring can become part of the fabric of everyday life - people might take their blood pressure in the morning when having a cup of tea and reading a morning newspaper, or jump on the scales before heading in to the shower. The practices of self-monitoring are not always distinct activities, but can become part of everyday routines and rhythms.
  4. Despite the term 'self-monitoring', the practice is not always done alone. Our participants described how they encouraged their partners to monitor, how they monitored together, or looked out for one another if monitoring became a source of worry. Participants often share monitors, weigh together, or share results. Taking readings was referred to at times as 'our blood pressure' or a practice that 'we' did. Participants often helped each other place the blood pressure cuff on the other's arm or noted down someone else's readings. Of course, there was a fine line between respecting someone's privacy and autonomy, and showing care or concern for their health, and a shared future.
  5. Self-monitoring can be a private activity. We found that some of our participants kept their monitoring to themselves, such as not letting on they were regularly checking their blood pressure so as not to concern other family members, especially children. It was common to keep their records private, such as weekly weigh in records.
  6. People make records of health monitoring in diverse ways - some on paper, some on computers, some through monitoring devices which may be networked, some keep track in their heads. Some records are created for personal use only, and other times individuals create records together or with a view to sharing with someone they may be monitoring with (e.g. to help a project of losing weight together) or a healthcare professional. We found that participants don't always record their results regularly, but often do so intermittently, selecting the data they want to record and sometimes only writing down the positive or negative results. Our participants showed us how they kept spreadsheets visible at home to remind them to record. Others noted how apps can remind us to take a reading too often. Sometimes, records of readings were simply noted down on slips of paper, the backs of envelopes, stashed away or lost in the midst of people's busy lives.

The House of Tracking -

This tool is designed to show some of the findings that have come from the project. The participants' quotes and images are located around the home to demonstrate how self-monitoring is experienced across different spaces, at different times, alone, with others and how monitors find a place in everyday life.

This tool draws attention to the links between devices and the spaces in which they are used, hidden and shared in domestic life.

Please click on items or rooms to see what participants have said about their monitoring.

house of tracking

Tell us your thoughts

By submitting this form, you are agreeing to share this information with us. We will not share your information with any third parties.

This research is being funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant, and is a collaborative project between the Universities of Sheffield, Sussex and Brighton.

© 2024 Tracking Ourselves?
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