Student discourse on digital self-tracking: rhetorics and practices

rhetorics and practices




self-tracking, digital technologies, «Quantified self», Russian students, reflexive thematic analysis


The article examines how Russian students comprehend and use digital technologies for self-tracking (mobile apps, smart wristbands, smartwatches) allowing them to receive behavioral biometrics data. The study presents the results of a reflexive thematic analysis of student essays on the topic. What meanings do the students actualize in their works? How do they describe their personal experience in self-tracking technologies? How do they envisage the digital future and construct the futurological discourse related to self-tracking? The study shows that self-tracking is conceptualized as a value-based, corporeal, social and technological phenomenon. Almost all the students have a certain degree of experience in self-tracking, however some of them strive to limit it or have stopped using it for a number of reasons. Based on student stories (former and current users) the author proposes to tentatively distinguish three self-tracking strategies: (1) gamer, (2) manager, and (3) transformer.  Gamers prize passion, enjoyment and newness; managers lean more toward bringing order to their lives; transformers are eager to make radical changes to body and mind. In actual life any self-tracker combines all three roles with one of them being dominant.  According to the students, self-tracking technologies are not capable of inciting a strong motivation for self-optimization but their effectiveness might increase in the future. Dystopian discourse in the student essays points to the problems such as  the use of personal data for the benefit of large corporations, prospects for coercive self-tracking (and total control), transformation of social practices and institutions under the influence of “digital doubles”. Recognizing the inevitability of further technological development the authors of the essays consider it important to critically assess possible consequences and risks of human and social life datafication.

Acknowledgments. The article was part of the study (grant no. 17-01-0077) carried out in the framework of HSE Academic Fund Program in 2017—2019 (grant No. 17-01-0077) and Russian Academic Excellence Project 5-100.

Author Biography

Evgeniya G. Nim, National Research University Higher School of Economics

  • National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
    • Сand. Sci. (Soc.), Assistant Professor, Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design