Currently accepted at: JMIR mHealth and uHealth
Date Submitted: Nov 9, 2019
Open Peer Review Period: Nov 9, 2019 - Jan 4, 2020
Date Accepted: Mar 20, 2020
(closed for review but you can still tweet)
Embodiment of Wearable Technology: A Qualitative Longitudinal Study
Current technology innovations such as wearables have caused surprising reactions and feelings of deep connection to the devices. Some researchers are calling mobile and wearable technology a cognitive prosthesis, intrinsically connected to the individual as if it was part of the body, similar to a physical prosthesis. And while several studies have been done on the phenomenology of receiving and wearing a physical prosthesis, it is unknown whether similar subjective experiences arise with technology.
In one of the first qualitative studies to track wearables in a longitudinal investigation; we explore whether a wearable can be embodied similarly to a physical prosthesis. We hoped to gain insight and compare the phases of embodiment (i.e.: initial adjustment to the prosthesis) but also the psychological responses (i.e.: accepting the prosthesis as part of their body) between wearables and limb prostheses. This approach allowed us to find out whether this pattern was part of a cyclical (i.e. periods of different usage intensity) or asymptotic (i.e. abandonment of the technology) pattern.
We adapted a limb prosthesis methodological framework to be applied to wearables and conducted semi-structured interviews over a span of several months to assess if, how, and/or to what extent individuals come to embody wearables similarly to prosthetic devices. Twelve individuals wore fitness trackers for nine months, during which time interviews were conducted in three phases: after 3 months, after 6 months and at the end of the study after 9 months. A deductive thematic analysis based on Murray’s work was combined with an inductive approach in which new themes were discovered.
Overall the individuals experienced technology embodiment similarly to limb embodiment in terms of: adjustment, wearability, awareness, and body extension. Furthermore, we discovered two additional themes of engagement/reengagement and comparison to another device or person. Interestingly, many participants experienced a rarely reported phenomenon in longitudinal studies where the feedback from their device was counterintuitive to their own beliefs. This created a blurring of the self-perception and dilemma of ‘whom’ to believe, the machine or the self.
There are many similarities between the embodiment of a limb prosthesis and a wearable. The large overlap between limb and wearable embodiment would suggest that insights from physical prostheses can be applied to wearables and vice versa. This is especially interesting as we are seeing the traditionally ‘dumb’ body prosthesis becoming smarter and thus a natural merging of technology and body. Participants experiencing a dilemma of whether to believe the device over their own instincts could imply evidence of technology reliance and decreased self-awareness.
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