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Working paper

Digital self-tracking among Russian students: practices and discourses

The article analyzes how Russian students interpret and practice digital technologies of self-tracking (fitness trackers, apps and wearables), that allow to collect biometric and activity data. It is based on the results of reflective thematic analysis of students’ essays on this topic. How do students describe their experience in using self-tracking technologies? What discourses of self-tracking are represented in their essays? How do they imagine the digital future and further development of the systems of self-surveillance? The research demonstrated that many students have certain experience with quantified self-tracking, whereas some tend to limit it or refused from it for some reasons. Based on the students’ stories (former and active users), the author offers to distinguish three styles of self-tracking: ‘gamer’, ‘manager’ and ‘transformer’. A ‘gamer’ is looking for the feelings of thrill, pleasure and novelty; a ‘manager’ aims at putting one’s head and life in order; a ‘transformer’ wants to change one’s life and mind radically. In reality any self-tracker combines all three roles, though one of them might dominate. According to the students, the existing technologies of self-measuring cannot give strong enough motivation for self-optimization, but in the future their effectiveness may increase. This study also resulted in defining four types of discourse on self-tracking: ‘progressivist’, ‘pragmatic’, ‘critical’ and ‘anti-utopian’. They represent the differences in conceptualization of self-tracking as a cultural phenomenon. Some students are prone to optimistic or balanced evaluation of the potential of self-tracking technologies; others focus on risks and hazards of ‘datafication’ of people and social life. The outcomes of the study develop the previous research on styles of quantified self-tracking, providing additional analysis of the reflections of (non-)users, concerning self-tracking as a cultural phenomenon.