Digital cultures of health: our collective obsession

Pitsillides, Stacey and Onol, Isil (2015) Digital cultures of health: our collective obsession. In: DRHA 2015 Digital Research in the Humanities & Arts Conference; 1- 3 September 2015, Dublin, Ireland. (Unpublished)


Health is a notion that is expressed everywhere we go. Terms like healthy eating, health care, mental health, healthy living, healthy cities, healthy economy, healthy relationships, and so on have become common-place but what do these phrases mean for us as a society, what systems do they enact and perhaps most poignantly does this obsession with health actually make us more healthy? The English origin of the word 'health' referred predominantly to 'wholeness' of a complete body, or a matter that is unspoiled. The broadening of the term 'health' in Middle English brings us closer to the contemporary definition in which it can be considered to mean prosperity, happiness, welfare, preservation and safety. Today, healthiness can be seen as a state of mind, a goal or objective, a framework, a label (something to be approved by), a confirmation for individuals or a community, or even systems. Technology has played a role in this new obsession with health. Body health, for example, has become a focus of self-monitoring technology through wearable tech. Food is now shared online, separated into categories, divided into calories and measured through apps and other online services. Economies (micro and macro) are constantly available as our banking moves to our phone and travel is automatically transferred to our credit cards, mapping out our offline journeys, actions and transactions as well as our online ones. The level of detail we can obtain about every aspect of our lives is now immense; we can monitor it and look for any inconsistencies that could make either us, or our lives less healthy – but how does this anxiety of always being on the lookout for inconsistency affect us? Does the segregation of the human being, pulled into a range of parts or collections of data push again the notion of the posthuman? And does design have a role to play in considering the way health and data may be constructed as a deeper self-reflection rather than anxiety-driven monitoring? We posit that in contemporary society we are not 'being' healthy, we are buying healthy, consuming healthy, printing healthy, travelling healthy and displaying other acts of healthiness. Within this paper, we seek new ways to unravel this collective obsession with 'being healthy' and question fears and norms attached to the formation of this notion. By considering the work of Gilbert Simondon, Bruno Latour, Gilles Deleuze and Katherine Hayles we begin to see health as a complex system of interwoven factors, which can never achieve full wholeness.

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