‘My Fitbit Thinks I Can Do Better!’ Do Health Promoting Wearable Technologies Support Personal Autonomy?

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This paper critically examines the extent to which health promoting wearable technologies can provide people with greater autonomy over their health. These devices are frequently presented as a means of expanding the possibilities people have for making healthier decisions and living healthier lives. We accept that by collecting, monitoring, analysing and displaying biomedical data, and by helping to underpin motivation, wearable technologies can support autonomy over health. However, we argue that their contribution in this regard is limited and that—even with respect to their ‘autonomy enhancing’ potential—these devices may deliver costs as well as benefits.We proceed by rehearsing the distinction that can be drawn between procedural autonomy (which refers to processes of psychological deliberation) and substantive-relational autonomy (which refers to the opportunities people have for exercising potential actions). While the information provided by wearable technologies m ay support deliberation and decision-making, in isolation these technologies do little to provide substantive opportunities to act and achieve better health. As a consequence, wearable technologies risk generating burdens of anxiety and stigma for their users and reproducing existing health inequalities. We then reexamine the extent to which wearable technologies actually support autonomous deliberation. We argue that wearable technologies that subject their users to biomedical and consumerist epistemologies, norms and values also risk undermining processes of genuinely autonomous deliberation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-38
Number of pages16
JournalPhilosophy and Technology
Issue number1
Early online date6 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2019


  • Autonomy
  • Ethics
  • Health
  • Procedural
  • Relational
  • Self-tracking
  • Substantive
  • Technology
  • Wearable


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