The early Anglo-American history of self-tracking and rendering human activity in numbers was largely about two things: spiritual or moral accounting, and mapping terrain. Spiritual and moral accounts remained largely confined to the textual tradition laid out in the previous chapter. Media for mapping terrain quickly proliferated and became more varied, requiring us to continue moving between textual and the mechanical media that automated human-activity tracking. In the previous chapter, we saw human-techno becomings in which people used textual tracking in essays, logs, diaries, and spiritual guidebooks to help measure as well as make account of moral and economic activities. Even as the textual media helped individuals perform accounts of their own moral mastery, the contemporaneous development of the mechanical waywiser worked not simply to measure distances traveled but also to bring land, distance, and human activity together in order to mediate national and imperial claims to land along with the resources therein. The mechanical devices enabled the automation of the labor previously involved in counting steps taken or laying down surveying chains. Using waywisers, people in power or those working in service of others with power were able to leverage distance measurement for pleasure, profit, and control. While it is possible to think of a trajectory from life writing to large-scale mechanical devices to wearable devices, it is important to know that all these media (and quite possibly more) coexisted as ways of mediating Anglo-American subjectivities and agencies.
A matrix of enumerative technologies and maps was essential to British imperial practices, both at home and abroad, and there was a shift from the mid-nineteenth-century “concern for the physical and ecological basis of land productivity” to the tracking of human populations with media like the census discussed in chapters 2 and 3, and activity trackers as detailed in this section.1 The histories of these quantum media unfold in the context of other mediations aimed at negotiating rights of ownership and/or responsibility, including but not limited to bureaucratic records like contracts, deeds, taxable revenue accounts, and medical records. Population statistics were already popular mediations of the body politic in England when the United States conducted its first popular census in 1790—roughly the same time that William Fraser obtained his royal warrant for pedometers in Britain and Jefferson mailed a pedometer to Madison. Part of what the cartographic pedometer usage normalized, even as the subject of step tracking shifted, was the erasure of the body and its work, even as such media depended on that human labor (as in Ogilby’s maps).
Like the schema of early censuses and mortality counts, the established schema of mechanical step tracking quickly elided the ways in which colonial logics were both integrated and normalized by tracking devices and their outputs. While devices vary in detail, they almost all share a physical boundary like the watch face or digital output, and depend on the aesthetic rationality performed by spare numerical interfaces.2 The shared history with clockworks—both devices were made by watchmakers, and even the digital innovations followed those of digital timekeeping—helps to explain the rapid integration of pedometers. Anglo-American people became familiar with step tracking during the same historical moment when personal timekeeping devices became popular. While modern interfaces offer little trace of the kinds of political and ideological residues detailed throughout this book, contemporary self-tracking practices are firmly rooted in racializing, colonizing, and gendering technologies of knowledge as well as control.
In addition to reading histories of land surveying as part of histories of activity tracking, we should be reading histories of activity tracking as part of those of surveillance technologies. Histories of surveillance tend to point to moments of technological innovation in recording, such as the telegraph, dictograph, or camera.3 I suggest that we should shift our focus even earlier to include the automation of distance recording and activity tracking. If the punch card tabulating machine used in the 1890 census was a mediation watershed, then so too was Augustus’s seventeenth-century pedometer, which printed out punctured spools of paper as a way of tracking distance over time.4 This chapter brings together the history of textual self-tracking with that of pedometers. This history begins with pedometers leveraged to automate certain elements of the cartographic processes in the service of knowledge about and control of land. Rather rapidly, though, the automated media of surveying is transposed into new contexts where it is utilized to track human activity for health or pleasure, or to monitor labor. With these new uses, nineteenth- and twentieth-century waywisers and pedometers mediated not only the often-violent processes of national and imperial becoming but also the becomings of citizens of those nations and empires.
The pedometer, whether attached to a carriage or human body, has a long history as a part of the elite culture of scientific instruments in England and western Europe. In the mid-eighteenth century, Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alambert’s Encyclopedie, published between 1751 and 1759, described the pedometer as a technology that “a walker might, for example, attach it on the left of his belt, and attach the corresponding cord to his knee. At each step, the cord would pull on the lever, and the needle of the bottom dial would advance by one unit.”5 A series of interlocking dials would then track tens and hundreds of steps, allowing a person to measure a significant distance while walking. The Encyclopedie makes it clear that the human body is involved in pedometer use, but the “walker” uses the device to measure “distance” rather than his activity itself. The importance of the pedometer for mediating territorial power is evident in the interest that British kings showed the devices. They gave craftsmen like George Adams (1765) and William Fraser (1777) royal warrants to design, produce, and sell pedometers, along with optical lenses, watches, quadrants, and other devices.
In 1777, Fraser launched his mathematical instrument and optics shop at No. 3 New Bond Street, London. Fraser served King George III as well as the king’s son, George Augustus, Prince of Wales. While Fraser served as royal instrument maker, his devices were also sold to members of the general public who had the means to buy and keep them. Even though measuring land remained important, with shops like Fraser’s at the end of the eighteenth century, we begin to see the addition of pedometer usages that were newly invested in the measuring and making of people (largely men, though that will change). Fraser’s shop offers a particularly good view on the multiple uses for pedometers at the boundary of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In an eighteenth-century advertisement now held by the Oxford Museum of the History of Science, Fraser offers what he calls “the New Pedometer,” which combined a step counter and compass in a single case. Fraser’s pedometer was marketed as “an agreeable companion to Gentlemen who walk much, and are fond of shooting, as it will assure them of the distance passed over from one place to another”—an argument for distance mapping as a gentlemanly behavior, bringing the imperial control of land into the elite individual’s domain.6
In addition to finding “bearing and distances,” Fraser’s device sold as a mechanical aid to a doctor’s prescription: “One advantage peculiar to this Machine is that those who by the advice of their physicians are under the restraint of taking exercise to a certain degree within doors or otherwise may have it ascertained by the use of this machine.”7 Thus Fraser’s New Pedometer served two functions: to measure the land and situate the wearer’s body therein, and track the activity of a body in motion in the circumscribed space “within doors.” This second function is no longer about understanding where a body is in topographical space or as a proxy for land measurement (and territorial power). Instead, the pedometer was refigured as a way of mediating a person in terms of health measured in steps taken and distances traveled. The gentleman hunter might well have wanted to display his fine pedometer while out, where it could be taken as a sign of conspicuous consumption as seen with an array of other mathematical instruments in the period. The patient confined indoors, however, circulated the pedometer in a different context—one where it is a sign of infirmity as well as wealth sufficient to support both a doctor and big enough house to walk distances that might need tracking. Fraser argues that this is a practical kind of luxury, indicating that his pedometers can be kept “in order for seven years without any expense.”8 With Fraser’s New Pedometer, we see a slow but marked transition in the ways in which the pedometer partakes in human becoming. What began as a way of mediating the relationship of human ownership and topography, usually at a distance from individual bodies, also became a way of mediating individual bodies along with their relationships to activity, place, and health.
The pocket watch–style pedometer offered by Fraser has been a fixture in American culture since at least the nineteenth century, and has its material origins in sixteenth-century mapmaking and land claims. As previous chapters suggest, it has more indirect family resemblances to the personal essay, devotional record keeping, and mortality counts, each of which sought to quantify and store information about human activity for personal edification and communal testimony. Waywisers and early pedometers initiated the process of automating the labor of tracking action, including printing out step records as in Augustus’s pedometer.9 Early pocket watch–style pedometers were somewhat cumbersome, though, requiring a mechanical link (either a silk or other textile cord, or a lightweight spring) between the foot, knee, and hip-worn device. This changed with the early nineteenth-century invention of a weighted-lever mechanism that allowed the impact of the step to register on the device without the need for a mechanical connection; nineteenth-century pedometers let gravity do some of the work previously done with textiles and/or chains.
The complicated matrix of imperial power and individual health monitoring with pedometers is perhaps best exemplified by what is known as “Napoléon’s Repeating Watch,” an eighteen karat gold encased mechanism with three dials—one for time, one for measuring, and one for the days of the month.10
The history of the piece is captured in the Proceedings of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia, which notes that “Napoleon I had a watch which wound itself up by means of a weighted lever, which at every step that he made rose and fell.” While the creation date for the device is unknown, its provenance indicates that it was purchased sometime between 1810 and 1815, which would make it the first pedometer to not need a direct link to the human body.11 In a move fitting the outsized ego of Napoléon, the device places time, date, and human activity in a single frame, rendering the movement of Napoléon’s body on the same plane with that of the great ordering forces of nature: diurnal and annual time. The initial description indicates that the step-counting lever was there to automate winding. Yet additional reports in the Proceedings suggest that this was an enhanced device meant to surveil the French emperor: “The ‘Napoleon watch’ was made by the order of the physician of the Emperor. … [T]he object of the ‘register’ was to know precisely how much exercise was taken, as the patient was always shirking his duty in the matter of his daily outing.”12 Even as Napoléon may well have used the pedometer function of his watch in operations of territorial power, he was subject to its monitoring capacity too. The emperor’s body may have been elevated to the level of temporal tracking and knowledge, but it was also subjected to the ordering and measuring functions that had sought to know celestial movements and the flows of time, and that now sought to know if a patient was fulfilling his doctor’s orders to get regular exercise.
Napoléon’s pedometer was purported to be the only one of its kind, and it may well have been until London watchmaker William Payne, of Payne and Co., patented his “improved pedometer” in 1831.13
Described in the 1831 edition of the London Journal of Arts and Sciences, Payne’s pedometer discarded the temporal functions of Napoléon’s watch in favor of a “very simple construction.” Constructed in the form of a small, flat pocket watch, “the escapement of the pedometer is made by the vibratory movement of a weighted lever, which is put in motion by the rising and falling of the body in walking, or in riding on horseback; independent of any spring or strap attached to any part of the body, as in pedometers of the old construction.” Like the earlier tethered pedometers, Payne’s pedometer could be modified for use on horseback or carriage, and in a nod to women’s fashions, could be “made so small as to be contained in a lady’s locket, or added to a small watch.” While women’s use was possible, the patent report clearly marks this as an elite masculine device: “It is intended to be worn by gentlemen in the waistcoat pocket or in a common watch pocket.”14 Unlike Napoléon’s watch, which placed his body in the same schema as the passage of time, most nineteenth-century pedometers had a single escapement and face, measuring only the passage of steps. This formal change simultaneously pulls the human body out of a celestial context and suggests that human activity warrants its own tracking media, rendering the masculine activities of the gentleman bearer less significant globally perhaps, but worthy of its own fine surveillance tool.
Scientific American published an account of “The American Pedometer” in its April 19, 1879, issue, marking what may be the first American-made pedometer. The account places the invention firmly in the context of individual health and recreation, contending that “walking, especially in the open air, is acknowledged to be the most economical, the most enjoyable, and in many respects, the most healthful form of physical exercise.” Inventor Benjamin S. Church argued that “the pedometer made abroad for surveyor’s use has failed to meet the wants of walkers generally,” and maintained that his new device “meets those wants fully and cheaply.”15
Using the same weighted-lever mechanism seen in Payne’s pedometer, Church’s device incorporated a novel face that spirals around a fixed arm, mirroring the nautilus-like spiral etched into the metal face (see figure 5.3). While beautiful, the design on the face was created to solve a problem with other pedometers that struggled to track steps over long distances efficiently; the whorls allow one to track up to twelve miles at a time. Patented in 1877, the American Pedometer was sold exclusively by Tiffany and Co.16 Two versions were initially available: one “registering steps from 23 to 35 inches in length and another adapted for Ladies and Children, registering steps from 17 to 26 inches in length.”17 It was also possible to get the pedometer with either a glass-covered enamel face for $7 or a nickel metal face that matched the exterior case for $5.
While Church touted his device as inexpensive, and ads regularly ran asserting that “ladies, professional and businessmen, students, pedestrians, sportsmen, farmers, surveyors and others will find it very useful,” the $5 to $7 purchase price was roughly equivalent to a $100 to $150 device today.18 Then as now, the affordability of quantum media was a relative measure.
Between the American Civil War and the twentieth century, there was a “marked shift in surveillance operating as an informal practice based in religious dogma to becoming an embryonic political tool of the government.” This is in keeping with the religious traditions of “mutual watchfulness” in colonial law as well as religious practices between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.19 Early nineteenth-century newspapers are peppered with claims of inventions or reports of pedometers being used by institutional agents.20 In most cases, these are instances in which the distance tracking is set up as a watchful media in commerce, and Church’s patent announcement indicates that these would have all been imported pedometers. As the 1841 Ohio Democratic Standard pointed out, “This is an important article for livery stable keepers and if used, would settle many disputes as to distances run by their vehicles.”21 Keeping livery operators honest was a transatlantic phenomenon; an 1874 story reported on a woman who similarly contested the rates charged by London’s cabmen by demanding that the courts certify the distances with a pedometer.22 The transition of the pedometer from an object that declared wealth and power to one used in the decidedly less empowered or outright-exploitative contexts of the livery worker, worried wife, or mistrusted laborers required a market shift. The devices needed to become something in addition to luxury items, and drivers and workers needed to feel pressure to “certify” their work in the same way that Ogilby’s waywisers and maps had certified the power of the British Empire. As we saw with early diary and account keeping, quantum media can work in service of large-scale imperial or national claims of rights and authority, but they can also attest to the honesty, reputation, and labor of individuals. This is a critical feature of quantum media: their flexibility to operate across a range of scales. The 1841 ad suggests that by the mid-nineteenth century, the same media favored by kings and emperors were deployed in a matrix of individual labor and professional accountability in order to address a different set of needs. Rather than certifying an empire using a pedometer and maps—what I might call an imperial and distant certification—the livery pedometer example is one of a close certification of the honesty (or lack thereof) of an individual in a marketplace.
This “close certification” was a market niche that the pedometer was well suited to fill; built on the familiar model of the pocket watch and using a relatively simple mechanical process, the pedometer was easily repurposed from large-scale mapmaking to the measurement of individual activity. While the pedometer had become inexpensive enough to be considered useful in livery industries, it remained the case that the objects could also convey wealth and prestige if finely made. One can find pedometers listed in the advertisements published on behalf of both opticians and watchmakers throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the Anglo-American contexts. These early advertisements usually offered minimal context for pedometer usage; most often the pedometers were the only quantum media in a list of fine devices. This in itself is telling; like the flourishing of self-tracking devices today, we see fashion and conspicuous consumption driving the sale of certain quantum media in early Anglo-American societies. Fine watches, telescopes, opera glasses, and pedometers were all markers of wealth and status as well as of a certain kind of aesthetic or scientific practice. As such devices circulate in a prestige economy, they perform the normalizing function discussed elsewhere for mortality counts and population statistics. Step-tracking devices draw on both the prestige of fine instruments and enumeration to shore up the value of human activity tracking, and they normalize such devices as important and even necessary to human life. This, in turn, opens up the space for newly normalized and enumerative mediations across economic strata. Population statistics gave Anglo-Americans a normal death, and pedometers gave us a normal state of life under surveillance.
What were the human activities worth tracking in this new sociotechnical context? Who was being watched? The following anecdote ran in the December 22, 1860, edition of the Vincennes Gazette, an Indiana weekly paper:
A lady who had read of the extensive manufacture of odometers, to tell how far a carriage had been run, said she wished some Connecticut genius would invent an instrument to tell how far husbands had been in the evening when they “just stepped down to the post office,” or “went out to attend a caucus”23
While the Indiana woman seemed not to know that such devices were already available, a Boston woman managed to perform exactly the kind of surveillance for which the Indiana woman had wished. According to a report in the October 7, 1879, Hartford Daily Courant, “A Boston wife softly attached a pedometer to her husband when, after supper, he started to ‘go down to the office and balance the books.’ On his return fifteen miles of walking were recorded. He had been stepping around a billiard table all evening.”24
Keeping track of individual activity—a kind of close certification or surveillance—was not limited to domestic relationships. The Washington Evening Star ran a story in fall 1895 in which an admiral gave his junior watch officers what looked to them like a common pocket watch (but was really a pedometer; it must have been an imported one!). The admiral tracked the junior officer’s night watch activities. To the admiral’s dismay, the morning reading showed just 2.5 miles traversed overnight, suggesting that the ensigns had been sleeping or resting during most of their watch. The next night, those same ensigns ordered an apprentice to take the watchful pedometer and “shake it violently for four hours” while the night watchmen took their normal rest. While the hack worked insofar as the pedometer registered more miles traveled, it was a bit too effective: a distance of 89 miles traversed in twelve hours tipped the admiral off to the ruse.25 Another story in the Railway and Engineering Review included a similar hack attempt by a Portland night watchman. Having previously been caught mechanically rigging the button-pushing work of his nightly rounds, the watchman was given a pedometer to ensure that he was manually completing his work. Although this use of quantum media to more closely monitor the watchman’s activities—turning steps into a proxy for completion of his rounds—seemed to work for several nights, he was eventually found sleeping in the engine room, having attached the pedometer to a piston rod.26
These late nineteenth-century hacks presage our own twenty-first-century example of Unfit Bits, a performance hack of corporate/insurance surveillance of human activity.27 As the pedometer became a vector for surveillance by those in power, people who were able quickly developed hacks designed to frustrate such efforts. There was little need to hack the pedometer when it was in service of either the close or distant certification of land; it was already a kind of hack of previously existing notions of boundary, domain, land landownership, and rights. As the pedometer began to mediate lives rather than land, the impacts and risk shifted to the individual being measured who might face domestic discord or the loss of a job. As I will discuss later in this chapter, plantation managers used a different mediation process in order to surveil enslaved persons, who had neither the luxury of mere “risk,” given that punishment was de rigueur, nor many options for hacking the mediation. In situations where surveillance drives pedometer usage and the subject changes from land to individual white male bodies, however, both resistance and the consequences of being caught appear in the popular literature fairly rapidly. Additionally, the efficacy of such close surveillance was rapidly troubled. Consider Hannibal Jackson, a husband being tracked by his wife because she was concerned that he was not following his doctor’s orders. Mrs. Jackson proudly shared her husband’s pedestrian cure with friends one night, only to then hear his close friend report that each day, Hannibal had walked to the corner store, bought a cigar, and shook the pedometer until it read five miles instead of taking his daily dose of activity.28 When his wife expressed shock and disbelief, Hannibal confirmed his friend’s story and asserted that the joy of this ruse has in fact “cured” him of his previous ennui.
As Hannibal’s story suggests, by the late nineteenth century, quantum media tracking of human activity was not only tied to a particular body but also remediated these largely white, male elite bodies in ways linked to health and labor activities as opposed to the territory mapping seen elsewhere. By the 1890s, there is a marked uptick in newspaper reports of activity tracking as part of health and recreation. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, large outlets like Scientific American as well as more local publications such as the Elk County Advocate (PA) and Lake County Star (MI) all ran stories on the health benefits of walking with a pedometer. Various athletic clubs and physicians appear in the papers throughout the last decade of the nineteenth century, each using the pedometer to track wearer’s activities for the purposes of self-reporting fitness or health. The new context for what had initially been a device used in surveying land was firmly established. Pedometers could mediate the ongoing land acquisition and control of the US government along with the trustworthiness and health of individual white citizens. In taking on the certification functions previously handled in essays and devotional accounts, as explored in chapter 4, the pedometer rendered the Christian foundations of textual mediations of trust and reputation less visible. While the conceptual schema of the life log, virtue tracking, or reflective essay is clearly at work in nineteenth-century pedometer usage to attest to individual labor, health, and trustworthiness, the deceptively simple numerical interfaces effectively black box that entire history.
While much of the popular discussion in the early nineteenth century focused on men’s uses of pedometers, in the second half of the century the devices became part of women’s fashion and close surveillance as well. The Atlanta Daily Constitution announced in 1879 that “a pedometer is now an indispensable feature of every young ladies’ attire.” In a piece titled “A Slap at the Dancing Girl” that ran in the Los Angeles Times in spring 1890, a “frail consumptive Connecticut girl who wanted to attend a dance” but pleaded illness when asked to wash dishes was sent to the local dance by her father in a coach with two servants and a pedometer in her pocket. As the paper reported, “When she got home in the morning it indicated that she had danced enough to cover thirty-one miles.”29 Echoing yet inverting earlier textual accounts of women’s behavior, the paper suggested that the tracking revealed the untrustworthiness of young women. It was not just dances that were being tracked; the pedometer-monitored pedestrianism of the nineteenth century included women too. In 1878, Bertha Von Hillern walked eighty-nine miles in twenty-six hours and reportedly “arouse(d) in women a sort of infatuation to go on the tramp wherever she travels.”30 According to one report, “Wherever Bertha goes,” women “begin to straighten themselves up and feel the muscles of the calves of their legs.”31 The “Slap” story and that of Von Hillern stand at two ends of the poles of the rhetoric around women’s pedometer usage. On the one hand, we have close surveillance in the example of the purportedly consumptive girl and a moral evaluation of her based on her activities, which include dancing but not washing dishes according to the story. One the other hand, Von Hillern’s story evokes the growing popularity of pedestrianism as sport along with the conspicuous consumption and performance enabled by wearing a pedometer during sport. Both are also framed by the gendered expectations around health and activity at the end of the nineteenth century.
In Von Hillern’s story we hear the anxiety and excitement around the increasing relative autonomy of white women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as a suggestion that women’s bodies (the calves in particular) had been dormant and could be improved with physical exercise. In the story of the consumptive girl, domestic duties are reasserted as more valuable to her father than her social or physical activities. In both stories, the pedometer stands in as a technology able to reveal to anxious men the moral status of the woman being surveilled. Von Hillern can “tramp” as long as it is in the service of competitive sport as monitored by the pedometer. The consumptive girl, by contrast, is revealed to be someone more like the sexualized tramp, untrustworthy as a contributor to the household economy and dangerously prolific in physical interactions with men.
White women’s pedometer usage was also ambivalently documented at the turn of the century in the contexts of elite socialite cultures. The 1908 Washington Times magazine section ran a two-page spread on the pedometer fad at debutante balls that included a full-page graphic that figured the women as elegantly clad, with pedometers discreetly hidden beneath expensive gowns or tucked into bodices.
The text at the bottom of the ad shown in figure 5.5 reports that “after an evening at a ball the debutante can glance at her little pedometer and say to her escort in all truthfulness: ‘Well, I danced just twenty-one miles … this evening.’” The piece goes on to assert that the “pedometer is all the rage in the large cities,” having been imported from the London debutante scene. Suggesting that “no bud is truly elite unless she has a little ticker attached to her bodice,” and that “if one is close enough to the young debutante … one can hear the merry tick, tick of the little instrument,” the description is clearly meant to titillate.32 It at once positions a quantum media as a necessary accessory for cultural prominence and promises men an auditory experience that verifies physical proximity to the nation’s elite women. Even in the case of debutantes, the power of aggregated numerical data is lauded. The article goes on to note that “the facts shown by the figures” may well be “incredible,” but true, debutantes can be counted on to travel nine hundred miles as part of the Washington, DC, dance season.33 While the presence of the pedometer positions young women as cosmopolitan, “elite,” and desirable even in their labors, a cartoon in the Richmond Times-Dispatch illustrates that the now-five-year-old step-counting craze threatened the social networking and partnering functions of the balls as women became more fixated on the numbers than their dancing partners.
Lamenting the spoiling of the dance season by the craze, the cartoon (figure 5.6) and article to which it was attached suggested that instead of the appropriate work of nation and family building, the pedometer-wearing women are creating a “spectacle” in which the debutante is anxiously monitoring her steps while her dance partner sweats with exertion.34 While competitive walking helped to frame Von Hillern’s “tramping” in terms of national prestige, the pedometer-driven competition among the nation’s debutantes threatened to transform balls into sporting events that leveraged men’s physical exertion in dancing rather than served their matrimonial or sexual desires.35
The interest in knowing more about bodies extended beyond the social realm of pedestrian competitions and dances to include yet another new context: pedometers as instruments used in gathering scientific knowledge on/with animal’s and children’s bodies. “In the Interest of Temperance,” a story that ran in newspapers in summer 1896, relates the work of a “Professor Hodge” who was studying the effects of alcohol on canine activity. Working with two pairs of cocker spaniels, Rum and Tipsey and Nig and Topsy, Hodge uses pedometers worn by the dogs to measure the activity of the animals over the course of the day. According to the article, “The prohibitionist pair are trotting about nearly all day, while the tipplers (who had been given a daily diet of alcohol) were especially active at night.”36 Professor Hodge depended on the pedometer as a watchful device that could track his canine subjects even when he was away. In keeping with the experimental cast of Hodge’s dog study, other pedometer studies in the American Journal of Society on children’s playground activity and Animal Husbandry on bovine menstruation in the first part of the twentieth-century leverage the media as scientific instruments. In such examples, the pedometer is assumed to provide accurate knowledge of the hard-to-track phenomena, whether that’s twenty-four-hour canine activity, children’s play, or the mysteries of cow ovulation. In addition to specific studies, leveraging quantum media like pedometers to track the amount of activity that a body performs in a day of work or recreation became widespread. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser (HI) ran a large chart in 1900 enumerating the miles women walked in the course of their housework, and the Washington Evening Star ran a similar accounting of an office carrier’s travels in a day.37 In addition to tracing the contours of empire and keeping a watchful eye on the bodies of men, pedometers became tools for understanding and, by extension, controlling embodied activity consumption. These newer usages tended to draw watchful attention to individual bodies versus bodies of land. This still remained an imperial project; as the contexts for pedometer usage spread, so too did the accompanying motivations to know and regulate behavior in the service of national and local productivity metrics.
Usages for media are remarkably durable and can coexist for long periods of time. So it should come as no surprise that even as mediation of the body becomes an increasingly central pedometer function, we still see these quantum media listed as critical instruments in the distant certification work conducted on behalf of the nation by surveyors. This includes those who worked to develop the routes for Western railways or determine land rights as the settlement and appropriation of land continued across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the United States.38 The British imperial use of the pedometer to create and reinforce territorial power also persisted. For example, the Royal Geographer attests to British men using pedometers as survey equipment in African countries.39 The two mediations, distant certification and close surveillance, both depended on matrices in which the numerical remediation of embodied activity resulted in actionable knowledge. What had once been the specialized instrument of the surveyor and cartographer became both a marker of individual status and tool for the close surveillance of individual bodies. The early modern usage of the waywiser and pedometer served to certify imperial claims of early modern and eighteenth-century nation-states. Later, the pedometer of the late nineteenth-century Anglo-American societies was entangled in certifying individual claims of work done, rounds walked, and illnesses suffered (or not). As this close surveillance emerged, so too did hacks or subversions of the mediation of human activity.
In the early twentieth century, there was a flurry of American invention that included Edmond Kuhn of the American Pedometer Company and Wilson E. Porter of New Haven Clock Company filing multiple patents beginning with Kuhn’s 1901 patent request for a pedometer driven by a “vibratory” lever rather than a mechanical chain (no. 694,652, awarded in 1902). Porter’s patent for an updated automatic pedometer, which he filed as a private individual as opposed to as an agent for New Haven Clock, was granted in 1904 (no. 765,992).40 While these devices seem to have done little in terms of innovating on the operations of the device patented in England by Payne, they do shift to a decimal rather than duodecimal dial (figure 5.7).
Over the next half century, there were nearly fifty patents awarded in the United States related to pedometers, and over the next fifty years would see more than twenty-seven times that many patents awarded for pedometer-related technology. Nevertheless, the industry was alive and well on both sides of the Atlantic in the first half of the twentieth century for personal uses as well as use in what was viewed as rigorous experimentation.41
The twentieth-century adoption of the “scientific management perspective” across American industry and culture involved equipping people with a variety of surveillance media, including concealed microphones to listen to traveling salesmen’s pitches and pedometers to track foot travel.42 Such efforts found their way into the home and women’s worlds as well. In her 1918 The Principles of Domestic Engineering, Mary Pattison, a white American “domestic engineering” advocate, offered the following anecdote to support her suggestion of motion studies for the housewife:
The mere walking about the house in the performance of one’s tasks is a point worth considering. After many tests with the aid of a pedometer, the writer found she walked indoors on an average of seven miles a day, occasionally covering twelve or fourteen—with the attention drawn to such steps and the consciousness of these miles, she has been able to reduce the distance considerably.43
The rising prominence of the scientific management mind-set around home economics and engineering advanced two different political agendas. On the one hand, efforts like those of Pattison linked efficiency to moral rectitude, thus carrying the residual traces of the devotional textual traditions seen in the preceding chapter. Pattison herself contends that a technologically mediated motion study is “not only an economic necessity” but also a “technique in bodily action, making for physical, mental, and spiritual culture or as we prefer to call it—personality culture—the development of the entire person.” Wanting to attract upper-class women back into homemaking work, Pattison argues that an economy of motion not only increases the labor value of each motion; it will return to the housewife greater “health, strength, and beauty” too.44
Drawing on early twentieth-century Progressivist tropes, other home economists like Lillian Gilbreth and Isabel Bevier maintained that “wasted labor kept American women shackled to the past.”45 Where Von Hillern was arousing the desires of women to “be out on the tramp,” thereby activating certain liberation tropes that we see today, the work of white female domestic engineers like Pattison, Gilbreth, and Bevier all sought an optimization of traditional Anglo-American notions of femininity in the name of progress. Activity tracking like Gilbreth’s suggested that the American woman was always already at work, and attempted to make that work visible to others in the “spirit of capitalist enterprise and in the effort to lionize the middle-class homemaker.”46 Beviers not only wore her pedometer at home but wore it to work at the University of Illinois as well, effectively mediating the merger of domestic and professional spaces as loci of women’s labor.47 Similar mediations were performed in American popular culture with accounts in newspapers and magazines of prize-winning stewardesses, waitresses, farm wives, and stay-at-home mothers throughout the first half of the twentieth century. As I have argued, it is clear that automated or mechanical activity tracking has long been a central feature of Anglo-American culture. Popular media advertisements and stories also demonstrate that devices like the pedometer were a part of early American life for not just white men but also affluent white women. The ways that those devices made meaning, however, were gendered. Where men tracked their fitness and labor without much resistance, women’s steps were viewed more ambivalently: safe when couched in progressive homemaking contexts, yet more threatening when demonstrating strength and independence out on the road or in the ballroom.
A full history of quantum media has to include not only mediations of human activity, as this book does, but also mediations of the human form itself. We need more work in this area, but Kate Crawford and Deborah Lupton both have written histories that contend that the gendered biopolitical and capitalist investments we see in activity tracking appear in other quantum media as well. Crawford along with Jessa Lingel and Tero Karppi, for instance, contextualize both the commercial and gendered nature of the practice in terms of early twentieth-century developments in weight measurement. In so doing, they draw attention to the problematic relationships between promised agency and self-knowledge and the commercialization of quantum media. Making the connection between the first personal weight scales and the process of “externalizing one’s data—knowing your metrics—as a precursor to self-knowledge and the good life,” they point to examples of early European public scales. These include inscribed weight scales, such as one “from the late 1880s in Paris, which offers the homily: ‘He who often weighs himself knows himself well. He who knows himself well lives well.’” Known as penny scales, these public scales represent a powerful blending of self-knowledge and commercial logics. As Crawford, Lingel, and Karppi observe,
This understanding of weight tracking offers a kind of moral epistemology: not only should one know one’s weight, but it is necessary to know it in order to lead a good life. But there is another imperative at work here: penny scales were a significant money-making enterprise, generating a strong profit motive in the emphasis on weighing oneself “often.” The relationship between the exchange of data for money was clear: spend a penny, receive a datum.48
Crawford and her coauthors trace the techno-discourse that began with doctors “monitoring and recording patients’ weight toward the end of the 19th century,” and developed into an Anglo-American normalizing health discourse.49 Histories of weight tracking are entangled with those of risk and insurance media discussed in the first half of this book, including the development of an industry standard height and weight table in 1895 by the Association of Life Insurance Medical Directors of America, and shortly thereafter, Louis Dublin’s 1908 “Standard Table of Height and Weight for Men and Women.” By the turn of the twentieth century, there was an industry-driven standard for doctors and insurers to assess “ideal” weight, which leveraged familiar tabular media to enable quick assessments at home and in offices.50
While this recording of weight, like the counting of steps, was initially focused on male bodies, the female body became a locus of control when early twentieth-century advertisers began proposing that husbands give their wives the gift of a slim figure by buying a home scale for Christmas.51 The shift to regulating women’s bodies in the privacy of the home was accompanied by what Crawford and her coauthors describe as a shift in self-tracking “from the sociable to the personal, a semantic shift from the third person to the second person and from the declarative to the conditional—from what this person weighs to what you should weigh and what you could be.”52 It is not a coincidence that quantifiable female body norms like weight and discussions of pedometers to improve household efficiencies emerged together in the context of increasing pressures to optimize industrial practices. “Scientific management” was designed to leverage the anatomized work site, broken into component pieces as in assembly-line work, in order to extract greater value from each labor action. Such habits of thought do not stop with the eight-hour workday, or respect the spatial boundaries between home and workplace. As I have detailed, women could and did leverage the new media to make the labor of household maintenance and childcare more visible. While this had a certain emancipatory possibility, it also made it possible to think of a body as/in discrete units that could be optimized. Thinking back to the newly “discovered” calves of Von Hillern fans, women’s bodies were already available to the logic of optimization. The history by Crawford and her coauthors draws our attention to other mediations that similarly sought to measure and then improve women’s bodies piece by piece.
Paradoxically, housekeeping optimization sought to reduce the activity of the body while the health optimizations suggested increases in activity, effectively putting any one woman’s efforts to optimize her home and body in conflict. Women in particular were encouraged to economize their walking at home during housework at the same time that doctors and public writers were encouraging women to “take two miles of oxygen on the hoof three times a day” or walk “five miles a day” for health.53 Casting women variously as beasts of burden (with hooves) or dangerously aroused to tramp about like Von Hillern, popular conceptions of what a woman should do for physical activity placed them in a bind: they were encouraged to reduce physical activity at home as a marker of moral and economic prowess, yet also to make time to get out and improve their bodies as physical commodities. Rather than spending money on leisure activities, as one columnist noted, women should walk with a pedometer, which “costs less than one popular novel and is an incentive to healthful activity.”54
As detailed earlier, women’s life writing, whether in manuscript or the more relatively rare print publication, appropriated masculinized media technologies in the service of rendering women’s domestic labors visible. As media, personal account narratives were relatively accessible provided that one had the means to buy paper, quill, and ink and was literate (no small bar if we are being honest). One of the ways in which the gendering of activity tracking has changed with the shift to mechanical and then digital pedometers is in the relative inaccessibility of the media for women’s appropriation. The interface of the manuscript page or book is relatively free from constraint; even in the tabular books and almanacs of the period, we see writers using forms designed to capture numbers in order to record a wide array of information. In contrast, tracking watches, bracelets, and necklaces along with their apps close off the data collection in ways that block women and gender-nonconforming or nonbinary people from hacking the media to create nonmasculine experiences and/or stories. The informational interfaces of digital media change, and the different media ecosystems today are mutually constitutive of one another, both working to create certain possibilities for lived experience and foreclosing others. Instead of a network of processes that flow between an author and her media, and then among a published or circulated textual media and its readers, we get more linear relationships such that authorship seems to vanish and the previously creative subject, now more reader than author, receives rather than produces.
This is precisely the limitation that Frick’s FRICKbits, discussed earlier in the book, attempts to address. While not pushing back on the know thyself paradigm (rooted in a diagnostic logic) of self-tracking, FRICKbits suggests that users can “take back” their data in order to create “data selfies” or data art.55 That users might need to take back data about their embodied experience testifies to the degree to which the informational flow has changed, thus positioning the data creator as reader versus author/artist. As an algorithmic automation, however, Frick’s app owes more to the early cartographic examples that I have explored, in which control over the body’s data is not the point. Instead, embodied action, human activity, produces a mapping of the terrain traversed. In contrast, consider how the Feltron Report is a bespoke artifact, created by an authorized white male author and narrating annual experience according to categories that he is able to interpret. While Felton’s publication is afforded the privilege of self-knowledge that remains decidedly self-centered, Frick’s app operates as a rather-elegant, if problematic, integration of colonial/imperial impulses to know and control land into our understanding of what it means to be embodied in the world. It also partakes of the commercial and competitive discourse that Crawford and others have pointed to as problematic in modern quantum media. Individual habits like frequenting particular places can “earn” a user clusters or special abstractions for her data selfie. Rather, what FRICKbits performs is the colonization and aestheticization of space through habitual movements. Resistant, dominant-culture-jamming usages within apps like FRICKbits and those that come with wearable trackers are certainly possible, as Felton’s individual reports show, but it requires certain positions of privilege and/or envisioning one’s own body as a perpetual paintbrush, moving to consciously shape the representation.
Even as some efforts to render QS data as art have incorporated the spatial knowledge as self-knowledge of colonial cartography, others have pointed to the ways in which twenty-first-century Western capitalist paradigms of knowledge production privilege certain kinds of numbers over others. Recall that motherhood and care work clearly appeared in the early modern examples of women’s life writing and were important in the history of pedometer usage in domestic engineering.56 As Amelia Abreu has argued, these activities have largely been excluded from twenty-first-century quantum media. Abreu, as a new mother, began to encounter moments where “life has started to veer outside of the grid of what is valued and made visible by data and quantification.”57 As her life activities shifted from what is conventional for a white, middle-class male, Abreu found herself participating in a different form of data collection: a quantifying of others rather than herself. Tracking bowel movements, feeding times and volumes, and timing for hunger and fatigue in children, Abreu tracks and enumerates constantly as a mother, but not as a participant in “quant life” as imagined by commercial quantum media. Where early modern life writing by women was able to take account of the domestic and embodied labors of women, the automation and algorithmic black boxing of twenty-first-century devices limits what is counted, and thereby limits the kinds of lives that can emerge as mediated by these technologies.58
I am not celebrating the highly restricted lives offered to early modern women or domestic engineering politics, but I do want to highlight the ways in which nondigital mediations allowed for narrative and numerate tracking of women’s lives. Motherhood is just one of the many ways to veer outside the grid of what is valued and made visible, which is not to say that there are not apps for that. There are apps to track feedings, infant growth rates, and contractions during labor, but until recently women were unable to track menstrual cycles, let alone breastfeeding, in the same mechanical or digital environments that others like Felton are tracking heart rate changes, miles cycled, or steps taken.59 This was not the case across the long history of textual self-tracking. Data-tracking media have always been gendered, but the exclusion of certain forms of counting and narration enacted by mechanical and digital tracking means that women in particular are facing increasing constrictions on the kinds of selves that can be performed.60
As Abreu reminds us, “Collecting, caretaking, curating, and analyzing data has been the domain of women’s work—look at histories of librarianship, nursing, and programming.”61 Where data gathering and analysis is part of everyday practice, when lodged in the memories and bodies of women, it has been called caring for others. But the self-care processes that wearable devices can track, manage, and analyze have been coded as part of a masculine pursuit of self-knowledge and self-control. Wolf and Kelly make this explicit, arguing that QS media and practices are not only about knowing thyself; they are also about contributing to “our knowledge about human life” by “using this tool we all build.” This shift matters not only for individual mediations but for communal or large-scale ones as well. In a deft rhetorical move that speaks to the pursuit of total knowledge and its politics, Wolf and Kelly refigure masculine self-care as a selfless pursuit of universal knowledge. But this body of knowledge looks suspiciously like early Enlightenment paradigms that privileged white, male, bourgeois life as the only life worth knowing. What is more, if we accept van Dijck’s argument that identity construction through digital technologies differs from that accomplished with analog forms, then we are not simply talking about large-scale data storage and analysis creating different ways of knowing but also different ways of being.
What we have, then, from the seventeenth to twentieth century in the Anglo-American context, are several threads that bring media and human bodies into different mediation matrices through which bodies, lives, and activities become visible, measurable, and recordable. This matrix is a site of human-techno assemblages created in the context of colonial and imperial practices, nation-state bureaucratic engines, and religious and health cultures. These matrices include considerations of reputation, dominion, and health, for which enumeration becomes newly valuable. While early mediations instrumentalized the body-techno assemblage in the service of imperial land claims, the textual tradition mediated human activity as evidence of social, physical, and moral health. When the analog pedometer became a part of both small-scale personal commerce (as in the examples of the livery operation or night watchman) and health recommendations (as in the case of Hannibal), the techno-body became its own subject of certification, thereby inheriting both the religious-moral and colonizing logics of earlier deployments of quantum media. As individual bodies were subjected to the idealization processes that quantum media enacted for nations and territories, the mediations became personal. Tracking activity in service to improvements in personal health, beauty, and productivity, the pedometer shaped what it is that a person should do. What is more, these mediations quickly leveraged the poetic connection between tracking and being that had been a part of even the earliest efforts to know oneself through writing. Pedometers and other activity trackers became central to knowing and performing both what one should and could be.
Indeed, many of the anxieties and motivations familiar to the twenty-first-century reader appeared as part of the embodied health-media-medicine matrix. Even as the sport of pedestrianism flourished and casual walking became a staple of doctor’s orders, popular culture seemed to some to be overrun with the “fad” of walking among American elites like DC’s debutantes and legislators. Male students at the University of Missouri wore “stylish” sporting pedometers proving that they got their recommended eight miles of walking a day. Comics lampooned both the collegiate and civil servants who wore pedometers—mocking, for instance, New York City’s “pedometered police” with images of sleeping supervisors and subordinates marching in circles to “run up the score” or get in their supervisor’s steps.62 Echoing twenty-first-century concerns that tracking serves only to discipline, a long piece on the pleasures of walking in the Washington Evening Star on July 27, 1913, warned, “Don’t take a pedometer if the instrument causes you to subordinate the true purpose of the walk to an anxiety to make a certain number of miles in a certain number of hours.”63 Walking or dancing for pleasure, particularly for young men and women of some means, was meant to be uneconomical, whereas the labor of the hotel waiter, farm or urban wife, and messenger were all subject to the anxieties of optimization.
While the majority of what I have been able to find in archives has been largely directed at white audiences and consumers, pedometers as a way to track one’s own activities appear sporadically in historically black newspapers beginning in the 1940s.64 Sam Lacy, for example, reports in the Baltimore Afro-American that he used a pedometer to determine how many miles he had traveled in his career as a basketball referee.65 Olga Curtis advised housewives in Norfolk, VA, that they needed to improve the efficiency of their kitchens with a pedometer and a “re-examination of storage habits.”66 Clearly, masculine fitness was not only for white men and optimization was not only for white housewives, but the same level of engagement is not evident in black newspapers. I have not found images of African Americans in ballrooms or dancing counting steps, nor have I found stories of black husbands being tracked by wives or doctors. There are a multitude of reasons why the archives yield more absences for people of color in the United States in particular, and respecting the absence in the archive by reporting it is valuable. At the same time, it is worth considering that quantifications of life activities in recreational, social, and health contexts are part of the construction of whiteness, and especially certain kinds of valued white masculinity and white femininity, prior to the mid-twentieth century. The quantification of black life did occur, but it tended to happen within the different contexts of enslavement and labor quotas. Such oppressive regimes depended on technologies like the scale and account book, exemplifying the ways in which media objects and mediations are racializing in Anglo-American contexts.
At the same time that media like the pocket pedometers were being used to carefully watch those in close proximity (French emperors, white daughters and husbands, or employees), bureaucratic paper media like the revolutionary muster rolls or records of the first Continental Congress were meant to oversee large populations, and used the same tabular form that had been utilized to capture and transform the labor of enslaved persons. Endemic to and constitutive of the bureaucratic, capitalist nation-state in the late eighteenth century were the first instances of “institutional surveillance.”67 While such surveillance was more distant, it was clearly about control of bodies rather than land. That said, the colonizing logic of earlier distant certification was also at work here, but its objective shifted from mapping as an expression of territorial power to a kind of biopower that transformed the activities of enslaved black people into wealth for white “owners.” This is not a particularly innovative moment, but I do think it is easily missed due to the changes in media forms. As we have seen, the residue of state control and moral regulation has long been a part of activity tracking. The formation of the subject as subjected to both the state and religious doctrine has always been mediated, and has always been an instance of human-techno becoming. Initially this appeared in textual forms (like the diary, essay, or life account), with later additions from the media of land management and empire in order to oversee the imperial body. Rather than small-scale interpersonal surveillance, the larger-scale tracking of land and bodies iterated on the activity-tracking media of slavery and the Atlantic trade in order to control both lands and bodies.
As discussed in chapter 4, the early modern and eighteenth-century remediations of black bodies as commodities was performed in part with tabular media like ship cargo lists, insurance policies, and financial documents belonging to slave owners. The nineteenth century ushered in another form of human accounting in Southern plantation ledgers. Household account books like the Locust Grove Plantation “cotton book” recorded weights of cotton picked in a table organized according to date and the first name of the enslaved person who picked it. Such activity-tracking tables functioned to assess the value of the enslaved person in terms of productivity—a remediation of black enslaved bodies in particular. In this context, tabular media in concert with other technology enabled a form of surveillance that measured cotton production (and therefore the activity of picking in terms of product) as a comparative value measured against both a daily quota and the work of fellow enslaved persons.68 If an individual’s basket came up short on the scales, the “balance” was often extracted with whipping and/or beating. In a media ecology that included a large agricultural scale, whip, and ledger, tracking the activity of enslaved bodies articulated concern only for daily production goals and continued the colonial practices of rendering black lives in commercial terms. This created a new set of formal relationships that drew on the preexisting relational structures of personal accountability; in plantation ledgers, the boss/owner occupies the conceptual space of a divine or cultural rule of law, and enslaved people are refigured as if they were his creations. It is a familiar move, if in an unrecognized media context, that renders white individuals valuable through moral performance to a divine agent while black individuals are rendered as valuable only in terms of physical labor. Plantation quantum media established not only an “unequal relationship” but also a transformation “of the power over life over another as the form of commerce.”69
Nineteenth- and twentieth-century activity tracking preserved an emphasis on personal accountability, which was seen with different effects in earlier religious practices and the plantation ledger. While devotional essays and tracking functioned as early reputation and moral accountability technologies, the plantation register measured the value and productivity of enslaved persons. As ledger media were imported into new contexts, there were significant structural changes. When publishing a personal account, an individual uses the media to perform accountability to a god, community, or both. Rather than communal or divine accountability, plantation ledgers articulated and created accountability to a boss/owner or an abstract notion of productivity.
Some bodies continue to be subject to differential mediation under capitalist and Fordist regimes well into the twentieth century. Telepedometry and telephone- or Internet-connected activity tracking shift the kind of surveillance network created. Instead of or in addition to self-tracking that is then published to certify one’s moral or physical fitness to a community, quantum media that are connected and share information back to corporate or government entities create new information paths that may not even include the user directly. Take, for instance, the telepedometry devices discussed in research literature and used in traveling sales industries, which are designed to enable surveillance of “natural” behaviors. Such devices were designed to avoid being detected by the wearer and fed information to a third party—either a researcher or boss in these illustrations. Research subjects were not informed about the data gathered, and traveling salesmen would only hear about the surveillance if their pedometers indicated that they had not traveled as far as reported. The practices of tracking and recording the activity of others functioned as an early version of the modern “panoptic sort”: a set of processes used to gather data about “citizens, employees, and consumers” in order to control access and behaviors.70
Analogous surveillance networks emerged in the United States from another area of psychological research—the electronic monitoring of people convicted or suspected of criminal activity—but these devices differed from the secret pedometers in that they were designed to change the wearer’s behavior through an awareness of their existence and surveillance. In their 1964 piece “A Program of Research in Behavioral Electronics,” Robert S. Gable and Ralph Kirkland Gable first introduced a two-way radio belt and later a modified bracelet used for behavioral modification with nonviolent criminals.71 Interestingly, the device included the “vibro-tactile” feedback of many present-day devices, which would have been sent by a remote monitor to either encourage or discourage certain behaviors as reported by the belt and wearer.72 While the Gable brothers had suggested the creation of communities of support among wearers, the majority of the implementations of monitoring devices has involved a much more unidirectional information flow that simply tracks and reports the movements of the offender to a parole officer or other monitor.73 The wearer of the device is almost completely cut out of the information loop, except through haptic feedback when a predetermined boundary is transgressed, and then later, in court or legal proceedings where the summary data may be presented.74 While the Gable brothers were “trying to find a way to avoid the hostility and judgment that goes with the treatment of juvenile offenders,” their activity-tracking innovations became a widely used model for punitive racializing surveillance in both the United States and abroad (it is now being considered in Europe for the surveillance of suspected terrorists).75
At the same time that the Gable brothers were working out their ankle-monitor technology, researchers in Japan were reviving the older health-oriented step-counting practices with new digital technologies. In 1965, Yamasa, a Japanese watchmaking company, partnered with a professor at the Kyushu University of Health and Welfare, Yoshiro Hatano, and released the 万歩計 or “Manpo-Kei,” which translates as “10,000 step measure” and encouraged customers in advertisements with the invitation, “Let’s walk 10,000 steps a day.”76 The first iteration was designed and shaped like the nineteenth-century pedometers made by Spencer and Perkins, but was encased in less expensive plastic (figure 5.8b); it drew on much the same technology as the chainless pedometers of the late nineteenth century. Patented in 1979, the Manpo-meter (the name of the device itself in the patents) was not the first of its kind, although it was close. Harada Yutaka and Kamiyama Toshibumin of Matsushita Electric (which would later become Panasonic) were awarded two 1978 patents in Japan for their electric pedometer.77 From the beginning, electronic pedometers like the Manpo-meter were marketed to both men and women from a range of social positions. Early ads (figure 5.8) included well-dressed young, smiling women, often in gardens or working in air travel. Men in the ads tended to be similarly well dressed and were frequently playing golf. Like earlier predecessors advertised in newspapers popular with a white readership, the ads align the Manpo-meter and automated self-tracking of exercise with the prestige of elite pastimes like air travel, baseball, and recreational golf.78 The first Manpo-kei iterations sold well, and along with digital devices created by Matsushita Electric, including pedometers embedded in shoes, helped to support the popularity of Japanese walking clubs in the 1960s and 1970s.79 In 1987, Yamasa released its first digital pedometer, the “Desi-walker MINI,” and in 1989, its “Arnes 200S” device was adopted by the National Health and Nutrition survey conducted by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.80 Pedometers embedded in shoes were attested to (and patented) in the United States and Japan in the 1960s and 1970s, and used in psychological research as well as imagined as a market-driving shoe innovation.81 In many ways, the example of Nike+ in the diptych mentioned in chapter 4 was the twenty-first-century manifestation of a mid-twentieth-century set of practices and media that included the surveillance of workers, those subject to tracking in legal contexts, and the heath responsibility motivations of the Manpo-kei, all of which fit neatly into existing frameworks for national health and life surveillance.
The exact genealogy of the ten thousand steps per day recommendation is not yet known. Recommendations in nineteenth- and twentieth-century texts in the United States tend to vary quite significantly from five to fifteen thousand steps when using the pedometer to measure fitness. As we have seen, early pedometer use was less about meeting goals, and more about measuring and communicating space or generalized activity levels. The young urban women who tracked their dancing rarely tied it to an individual goal; instead, they used it as a relative measure of social engagement. Similarly, the use of pedometers to track traveling salesmen and night watchmen was also not about fitness goals but rather about surveillance and measuring the honesty of a workforce. Domestic engineers who used pedometers to articulate the labor of housework in a given day were likewise not engaged in a step goal-oriented project. Instead, these women sought to make the physical labor of housework or other feminized forms of labor visible in new and newly legible ways. By contrast, the Manpo-kei and its electronic relatives represent yet another pedometer usage and form. Picking up on the fitness focus of early doctors’ recommendations to men to use pedometers to ensure/encourage activity, electronic step trackers remediate activity tracking into a normalized measure of embodied health.
The formal operations of digital trackers were and are different from analog trackers too. Rather than use a gravity-dependent lever to move a hand on a dial, digital trackers translate a step into the electric work of what was essentially a tiny calculator that recorded each step as the push on a + button. Digital readouts of personal devices were often quite simple: sets of numbers representing steps taken or a distance on an LED display screen much like those of early beepers and calculators. The initial phase of the electronic pedometer included basic tracking on the device and a step chart or journal (textual remediation yet again!), and entailed a relatively close surveillance model. Electronic pedometers, like their analog predecessors, could be used to track oneself or a closely related person. Additionally, they could automate checking in on staff or measuring women’s work. Unlike our twenty-first-century trackers that depend on aggregated data in a proprietary system that the user has no knowledge or control over, even early digital pedometers kept the data limited to the user and anyone with whom she choose to share. The notable exception is that of telepedometers, which as discussed earlier, transmitted activity information to a remote source with the explicit goal of remaining “unknown to the wearer.”82 Early digital trackers also did not speak back to the user—cajoling, encouraging, or otherwise making meaning from a set of automatic processes. While the early digital trackers did not share many of the features that render twenty-first-century activity tracking so fraught, midcentury Japanese and American innovations in digital recording as well as display quickly and relatively invisibly segued into devices that share, aggregate, and process activity data.
Crawford, Lingel, and Karppi note a similar mash-up of historical ideologies underpinning weight measurement and emerging data regimes: “We see that the connections between data, bodies and self-improvement made in the early 20th century are being repeated today, but with a twist: where the scale and the analogue pedometer primarily gave the data to the user to reflect on her own patterns, 21st century activity trackers make the user and her data known to a range of other parties.”83 These kinds of historical lineages and connections have been notably absent in the narratives written by QS enthusiasts. For example, Wolf (recall that he is one of two early leaders in the QS movement) interviewed the Gable brothers for Wired in 2007, just two years before his foundational piece on QS for the same publication. While he clearly was aware of the sibling technologies, he made no connection between the GPS-enabled, vibrating activity trackers of Silicon Valley athletes and those of parolees. For lifestyle users, giving up their data is a voluntary (if frequently hidden) act. Parolees and those under other forms of legal surveillance have little choice about the data collection, and have even more limited access to the data than do commercial device wearers. This is a racialized and racializing difference; black Americans are incarcerated at 5.1 times the rate of whites, and Hispanics are nearly 1.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts.84 Likewise, there are significant disparities in the rates of arrest and commitment of juveniles, who were the initial population imagined for legal surveillance. Blacks “are four times as likely to be committed as white juveniles, American Indians are three times as likely, and Hispanic juveniles are 61% more likely.”85 Racial disparity in incarceration along with arrests for both adults and juveniles indicates that there are likely similar disparities in required surveillance rates, meaning that it is likely that more black and brown bodies are mediated through compulsory activity tracking.
As in the mortality and life expectancy tables leveraged by the English and American governments, aggregated digital data tracking utilizes the social body (aggregated from individuals) in ways that are disconnected from the lived experiences of those individuals. Drawing on centuries-old rhetoric of self-knowledge and regulation, digital quantum mediations refigure a now-voluntarily surveilled “population as the source of wealth, as a productive force,” subjected to a modern and subtle form of disciplinary supervision.86 By drawing on the old liberal rhetoric of self-knowledge, wearable activity tracking hides the surveillance, optimization, and capitalist logics well known to twentieth-century night watchmen, housewives, debutantes, enslaved persons, and remote workers. I would go so far as to argue that know thyself has long been cover for self-regulation and wealth generation in the service of the nation-state and other institutional entities.
Histories of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and early twentieth-century pedometer usage in the United States make it clear that biopolitical concerns are not just those linked to liberalism’s concern with the least costly forms of government but also those of individual governance.87 The ever-entangled human-text-pedometer matrices of early white America seen here inextricably link the “management science” and Taylorist efficiencies to the individual human body in a relation of close surveillance. This is, I think, one particular kind of relationship articulated by Foucault’s argument that “American neoliberalism seeks to extend the mentality of the market to domains which are not exclusively or primarily economic,” such as the family, birth rates, delinquency, or mental health.88 The inclusion of pedometers in the home and at work represents an import of religious logic seen in essays, life accounts, and mortality tracking repurposed as supposedly secular ideals and market logics (transparent accounting is good) such that the quantitative tracking of human activity is linked to personal reputation, greater efficiency, and better personal management. A similar entanglement of religious and capitalist logics with mediations of human life is what historian Dan Bouk’s analysis of the nineteenth and twentieth century suggests as well for the American life insurance industry.89 Capitalist logics infused imperial land claims, personal business and the slavery industry, and finally personal lives. This ever-increasing penetration of quantum media into human life supports Foucault’s dating of the emergence of biopolitics.
At the same time, the long entanglements with textual media throughout this book indicate that there was a religious quantifying and tracking impulse that predated the market logics, and may have even informed them. While the history of activity tracking cannot possibly provide us with a single catalyst for the Anglo-American regime of self-quantification—was it capitalism or Christianity?—it does suggest that both are operational in the context of activity tracking from at least the nineteenth century, when pedometers became distinctly tied to understanding the activity of a human body as such. It also makes it clear that understanding Anglo-American human-techno becomings requires an analysis of longer media histories given the integration of older imperial and Christian habits in new domains as well as through new or newly purposed media.
As Lupton observes, the QS movement is largely made up of “American middle-class white men with high levels of digital technological know how.”90 As I have noted throughout, however, the QS movement is a late arrival to the practices of activity tracking, and that long history involved many more forms of activity tracking than are represented in the commercial wearable market. That said, the contemporary matrix that I am considering here is specifically engaged with wearable quantum media. While wearable market analysis is not a perfect indicator of who owns and uses self-tracking media (wearables can include Apple Watch–like devices that may be purchased for nontracking reasons), it is suggestive that consumer culture is similarly white, male, and middle class or above; a 2016 report in Forbes indicates that men are more likely than women to own or want a wearable device, and that wearables owners are also more likely to be upper middle class and above.91 According to the report, 29 percent of wearables owners make more than $100,000 a year. Expanding our scope to consider health-tracking activity, we begin to see more participation by black Americans in particular. A 2013 Pew Research Center study suggests that both black and white Americans are more likely than their Hispanic counterparts to track health, and tracking that behavior correlates to having some college or an advanced degree and higher-income levels.92 The racial and socioeconomic factors that result in these demographics merit additional study, especially the ways in which health optimization (like improving activity levels or training for competition) is integrated into popular conceptions of QS while addressing health complications or illness (like diabetes and cardiac disease) are not. Finally, we need a more complete evaluation of the many mediations of modern health tracking, as Neff and Nafus’s work has begun, in order to understand the more capacious forms of mediation currently used and their various effects.
While the human-techno becomings of quantum media have always been complicated, there are important differences between nonconnected digital devices and those that are entangled through web-based applications in terms of both interface and access to data. Where the involuntary use of a tracking device often entails mediation of activity in ways inaccessible to the person under surveillance, the mechanisms of control are more carefully designed into modern tracking wear. Crawford quotes Mirko Tobias Schäfer’s observation that
implicit participation is channeled by design, by means of easy-to-use interfaces, and the automation of user activity processes … [I]t is a design solution that takes advantage of certain habits users have. … The user activities performed on these web platforms contribute to the system-wide information management and can be exploited for different purposes, such as improving information retrieval, or gathering user information for market research.93
From the data collected, a wearables company along with anyone who they may sell or give their data to can aggregate and analyze massive data sets of users. This allows to them to create models of human behavior and activity based on demographics (usually entered when registering a device or starting an app). As Crawford, Lingel, and Karppi note, this stands in stark contrast to what the user herself receives, which is typically only “an individual report of their data, day after day. From this perspective, when people start using these devices they enter into a relation that is an inherently uneven exchange—they are providing more data than they receive, and have little input as to the life of that data—where it is stored, whether it can be deleted and with whom it is shared.”94
This asymmetry plays out both in terms of access—who has access to data at what levels—and value—what value is ascribed to the data. The individual, as we saw in chapter 3, has long been sidelined in the corporate and governmental efforts to make human behavior and bodies legible. This does not mean that there is no individual value to self-tracking; quite to the contrary, most enthusiasts consider it very useful.95 Nevertheless, the asymmetry means that what individuals get from commercial self-tracking is valued and operationalized in vastly different ways by the user-creator as well as her corporate or governmental interlocutors. Additionally, relative to the early pedometer or textual-tracking media, there are important differences in the layers of obfuscation that come with late twentieth- and twenty-first-century tracking and quantification: “For self-tracking devices, data are mediated by a smartphone app or online interface, and are held firstly by the wearables company, along with other personal data such as name, age and gender. The user never sees how their data are aggregated, analyzed, sold or repurposed, nor do they get to make active decisions about how the data are used.”96 In both cases, there are major corporations making money off the embodied activity of a person wearing a tracking device.97 The meaning making of device wearing varies with context; the relatively expensive health-lifestyle devices purchased for activity tracking tend to communicate affluence and testify to a wearer’s dedication to work on health. By contrast, the punitive ankle bracelet signals juridical oversight, which is often read as evidence of criminal conviction. The stigma around involuntary tracking is particularly strong among minority populations, where it is perceived as more punitive.98
While the opt-in wearer is clearly more empowered than those who are given a legal mandate to wear an activity tracker, both are entangled in a situation in which the third-party collection and use of tracking data shifts the meanings as well as value of activity-tracking data “both in terms of what meaning can be extracted from it, and in terms of its perceived capital value.”99 Personal data tracking has always been about a kind of communal reckoning and/or surveillance, but now it is also about a flow of information to third-party users who are monetizing and activating this information in ways not seen before. With “data flowing between devices, consumers, companies, institutions, social networks and back again,” we find ourselves in a moment in which the dictum to know thyself is entirely entangled with the commercialization of knowledge about bodies, behaviors, and movements.100 Knowing thyself looks an awful lot like corporate efforts to know and shape the consumer body. In the case of surveillance technologies used by law enforcement and the courts, quantum mediations seek to also limit the kinds of social interactions and experiences of physical space possible for those who have been convicted of minor crimes.101
Whether in punitive or recreational surveillance, “tracking devices are agents in shifting the process of knowing and controlling bodies, individually and collectively, as they normalize (and sometimes antagonize) human bodies.”102 They are also leveraging numerical tracking as evidence regarding the female body in ways that echo and expand on that seen in early devotional and essay media. This is frequently a deeply gendering process; take, for example, the February 4, 2016, post by David Trinidad on the popular message board forum Reddit:
My wife’s Fitbit is showing her heartbeat being consistently high over the last few days. 2 days ago, a somewhat normal day, she logged 10 hours in the fat burning zone, which I would think to be impossible based on her activity level. Also her calories burned do seem accurate. I would imagine if she was in the fat burning zone, she would burn a ton of calories, so it’s not lining up. I’m not sure if something is wrong with the sensor. Is there a way to reset or recalibrate the device? I’d like to try that before I contact customer service about a possible replacement.103
Within hours, several forum users had replied, including one known by the handle Thatwasunpleasant, who asked, “Has she experienced anything really stressful in the last few days or is it a possibility she is pregnant?”104 A short while later, Trinidad returned to the forum to confirm that yes, in fact, the couple has now learned that his wife is pregnant. As of this writing, 737 comments appear on the original post, and Trinidad’s story ended up in several major news outlets. We do not have information about how his wife (who remains anonymous in the exchange) felt about having her pregnancy diagnosed in an online forum or rendered visible through her activity-tracking device; she remained entirely out of the public discussion. Both the Fitbit-tracking interface on either a phone or other device and the Reddit message board in this illustration function as zones of semipublic contact where women’s bodies are read in quantified terms and then become legible as pregnant bodies. This is not necessarily intentional; what first appeared as a device malfunction was transformed in the act of community interpretation into a symptom or indicator of an otherwise as-yet-unseen event. Regardless of the intent, the quantum mediations of Trinidad’s wife made it possible for him to place her body and heart rate data in front of an international audience for scrutiny and speculation, making her pregnancy evident even before she knew.
Quantum mediation as evidence is an issue in legal contexts as well as social media spaces. The first use of Fitbit data in a courtroom occurred in 2014 in a case tried by McLeod Law, a Canadian firm, which was representing a woman injured in a car accident in 2010. Using a comparative assessment of her Fitbit data to that of her demographic, her legal team sought to demonstrate diminished life due to injury. The process of this mediation matches what users usually receive, which is a comparison to a preestablished demographic norm of a person’s activity. In this instance, a tracking device, the data collected, and the output created by the proprietary algorithms were used instead of experts to testify about her condition. The plaintiff’s life here is understood only in comparison to a data set that is black boxed, making it impossible to determine if it was an appropriate basis for comparison. Because that analytics platform depends on a set of algorithms not made available to those in the courtroom, there was no way to parse that comparison beyond what the machine and legal team asserted.
The status of such processed information as evidence may well be troubled by a 2016 fraud class action lawsuit filed by Lieff Cabraser and cocounsel on behalf of consumers nationwide against Fitbit, Inc. over complaints that heart rate monitors sold by Fitbit—the Fitbit Charge HR and the Fitbit Surge—fail to accurately measure user heart rates.105 Fitbit’s response was remarkable for the shift away from claims of accurate self-knowledge. In a statement to Fortune, company representatives argued that
PurePulse provides better overall heart rate tracking than cardio machines at the gym, as it tracks your heart rate continuously—even while you’re not at the gym or working out. But it’s also important to note that Fitbit trackers are designed to provide meaningful data to our users to help them reach their health and fitness goals, and are not intended to be scientific or medical devices.106
Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration issued a “Draft Guidance” report in January 2015 indicating that it would not regulate “general wellness” devices like the Fitbit as medical devices.107 In cases like this, we see the tension in claims that quantum media lead to scientific self-knowledge. Crawford and her coauthors observe that “by giving these systems the power to represent ‘truth’ in a court case, we are accepting the irregularities of their hardware and software, while also establishing a set of unaccountable algorithmic intermediaries. The wearable, and the systems that subtend it, become unreliable witnesses masquerading as fact.”108
In the case where processed data was used, a media device marketed as a personal fitness accessory clearly reveals itself a source of evidence of a plaintiff’s diminished life—one so authoritative that the data replaces experts who might have been called in a different period to testify on her behalf. As with normalized weight measurements, the plaintiff’s life is understood only in comparison to a data set that is black boxed and likely drawn from a limited normalizing sample set.
Whether or not “wellness devices” produce legally admissible evidence, information from quantum media has been used in decision making by the police. In March 2015, Jeannine Risley called the police to her then-boss’s home, where they found overturned furniture, a knife, and a bottle of vodka. Risley told the police that she had spent the night there and had been sexually assaulted by a “man in his 30s, wearing boots.” She also told the police that her Fitbit had been lost in the struggle; in the course of a preliminary investigation, the Fitbit was found, and its data was downloaded. The activity tracker used heart rate and movement data to suggest that Risley was awake and walking around at the time she claimed an assailant interrupted her sleep.109 Despite charges of inaccuracy for such devices, including those fraud suits, the data were taken as evidence that Risley had made a false report to the police. All three of these legal scenarios (car accident and personal injury, the class action lawsuit, and Risley’s case) raise questions about how “self-tracking” manages to also be surveillance of the self on behalf of the law, nation-state, or some other regulatory unit. Does it matter, we might ask, that all three of these cases have involved women? Insofar as the question of what constitutes legal and medical evidence is not a gendered question, then perhaps not. But given that what we see on display in each of these cases are questions about the status of women’s bodies, as pregnant, harmed and limited, or sexually violated, then it matters a great deal. It also matters that quantum media are being used to either preempt or bolster women’s narrations of embodied experiences. In each of these instances, there is a sense that a data collection device can testify to the state of a woman’s body in ways that reveal truth—a pregnancy, injury, or perhaps subterfuge. What’s more, the data themselves are subject to further semiotic transformation before they come to testify on behalf of or against these women; the data are processed, analyzed, and represented in forms that perform yet another level of mediation between the woman’s body and community that scrutinizes it. This final point is crucial, I think, because it points to the ways in which these particular examples reveal that what begins as self-tracking can quickly be leveraged by others to know those who aren’t trusted to know themselves.
The foregoing examples illuminate just a few of the ways in which wearable activity trackers make certain kinds of information evident, but what do they leave out? What becomes even less visible by virtue of not being part of the big data of digital life? Abreu points us to the gendering operations of commercial quantified self-cultures and devices, which is one way in which such media shape how life is understood. I have myself encountered the disjunctions between the assumed goals and real-life situations encoded into tracking media. A research collective known as BorderQuants has taken up the issue of borderland quantification and borderland methods for scholarship on quantum media. As part of that research, I wore a Jawbone UP for six months, and found that it exhorted me to improve my sleep with various diet and lifestyle changes—none of which took account of the fact that I was up at night to tend to a newborn child.110 I also personally discovered just how limiting the view of human activity and our embodied responses can be while wearing a Spire “stone” device for the same research (Spire stones are advertised as promoting mindfulness).111 After a presentation about archives that track genocide, which included disturbing first-person accounts of rape and dismemberment, the stone repeatedly buzzed on my breastbone (increasing rather than decreasing my stress levels), and the app suggested that I needed to do more to keep myself calm. In instances like these, the devices and applications that go with them read my data in a generalized context that did not account for the possibility of duties beyond self-care, or that anxiety might be an appropriate response to mass atrocity. Both the Jawbone UP and Spire stone imagined that I was an autonomous masculinized agent responding only to my own needs as opposed to those of feminized childcare and witnessing.
As indigenous technology and justice scholar Marisa Duarte’s work makes clear, even the voluntary use of quantum media goes beyond problematic gendering to enact state-supporting, white-middle-class normalizing functions by encoding an “expectation of a largely uncontaminated upper-middle-class American life.” Duarte describes the absurd feedback produced by normalizing quantum media during her 2016 visit to Rio Yaqui territory in Sonora, Mexico:
After a day of driving from village to village, greeting people and visiting outside for hours in 100 degrees Farenheit, the Jawbone transmitted a message to my smartphone, reminding me to drink water. I was drinking lots of bottles of Nestle water from a cooler, yet I still felt dehydrated. Nestle is one of the transnational companies responsible for illegal theft of water from Rio Yaqui. So are Coca-Cola and Arrowhead. The next day, after enduring an evening of a pounding headache, nausea, and overheating, the Jawbone notified me to challenge myself to hydrate; the device had recorded broken sleep and a quickened heart rate, which are indicators of dehydration.112
Far from simply supporting “health,” Duarte unpacks the ways in which such devices can show a wearer how her “physical pain reveals itself through quantitative means.”113 Duarte’s device read her bodily status, including the pain created by dehydration, as a lack of will to sufficiently hydrate.114
In this example, the mediations of Duarte’s physical activity could only point in one direction: success or failure in a health paradigm. While in Sonora, the activity was a matter of will—challenge yourself to hydrate—accompanied by the device’s and app’s failure to acknowledge the corporate and state violence that led to poisoned local water, or the ethical violence of drinking water sold back to a community by its spoilers. The device exhorted Duarte to “get up and find your best self” in ways that entirely missed political, environmental, and ethical contexts for her activity. As twenty-first-century surveillance media, the Jawbone UP erased the contexts for activity in favor of ones more supportive of the normalized behavior of affluent American citizens. Building on Abreu’s insights quoted earlier, these examples make clear that activity monitors can only understand physical activity within a paradigm where the wearer is safe, not responsible for the care of others, and using activity for exercise, not survival.
The disjunction was jarring for Duarte as an individual, and it has consequences for this quantum media tool that Wolf suggests we are all building as part of the QS movement. As with the algorithmic art of Frick, the “we” of device wearers are not really building the “we” imagined by Wolf (where “we” is everyone wearing a QS device). Few of the millions of activity-tracker wearers know how their devices work, let alone have some control over how they are designed, made, or used. Instead, their bodies are generating data in predetermined ways within existing schema that match mainstream, hegemonic notions of what physical activity is and what it is for. Rather than serving the needs of wearers, such mediation is making money for corporations and third-party agents. Jawbone UP and other quantum tracking media are made by private companies, which collect, aggregate, and monetize that data—whether for their own production or through sale to third-party data brokers. As seen in the Nike+ example earlier, companies use the aggregate data to evaluate users as well as sell additional products and services. As the feedback to Duarte makes clear, commercial quantum media fundamentally misunderstand embodied activity when it is outside a wellness norm; the media are unable to attend to the political, environmental, and ethical contexts in which embodied action unfolds. Consequently, the data that are shared to corporations and then back again to users in no way acknowledge the contexts for those numbers. Such mediations thus violently rewrite Duarte’s and others’ experiences, casting them only within “particular notions of health and wellness, and within particular secure and mediated landscapes.”115
All of which leads me back to the model of self-narration and self-reporting in the Feltron Reports. Felton became increasingly vocal about the security and privacy risks of tracking media as he took on newer, more comprehensive quantum media.116 What would Feltron Reports look like for people who do not share his demographic position as a relatively affluent, white male? Do we need to interrogate not only the security of our data but the kind of secure subject position that makes boutique records of life into art and commercial objects too? Who could not do as Felton has done? What kinds of stories cannot be told with either a commercial report or even a Frick-style artistic mapping because individuals do not have access to such media, the time to engage it fully, and/or do not have the security to reveal the details of their everyday experience without increasing their risk of domestic or state violence? Do we really want a suite of quantifying tools built largely by a long progression of white Christian men to be the dominant media for understanding and living human life? Can we imagine other possibilities?