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Staying healthy in a digital world

AI and social media are becoming more integrated into our lives, but how often do we stop and think about how they affect our health? Dr Rachael Kent gives us an insight into her latest book 'The Digital Health Self: Wellness, Tracking and Social Media’ that warns we could be spiralling into a tech health crisis.

Technology has always shaped how bodies and health are known and understood – from x-rays to blood tests. But in recent years, the rise of more personal digital tech has complicated that relationship. Through the growth of AI and health devices, influencer cultures on TikTok and Instagram, surveillance tools and health profiling from our digital habits, and daily life being increasingly mediated from behind the screen, has accelerated the opportunities and harms of digital tech shaping our health in everyday life. From ‘tech addiction’ to influencer culture , ‘The Digital Health Self’ explores how the tech and platforms we use prescribe to us what is healthy or unhealthy in today’s digital society. Influencers, whether qualified or not, tell us what to eat and how to exercise. Your Fitbit nudges you to keep moving if you have not hit your 10,000 steps each day. Recommendation algorithms and targeted advertising tell us what to services (gym) or products to buy (such as clothing or certain foods) to achieve optimal ‘health’ and have a better life. In this book I explore these problematic intersections of digital capitalism, surveillance and health. Providing insights into these challenges whilst highlighting the importance of living well with technology.

Today, following an influencer’s lifestyle guidance can also be considered a component of one’s digital health practices, as much as their exercise tracking on Fitbit. However, following the guidance of unqualified influencers can be hugely harmful to your mental health in terms of lifestyle comparisons or self-esteem or body issues it might contribute to. Similarly, following unqualified nutrition or fitness influencers can be hugely detrimental to your physical health if you follow their guidance when not all bodies operate or perform in the same way and have different nutritional and fitness needs. Similarly, following the nudges from your Fitbit or exercise tracker (Garmin or Strava for example) to move further or faster could be damaging to your physical body if overexercising, or when managing an injury. In addition, these nudges prompt a huge amount of stress and subsequent guilt or shame mentally if some activities cannot be undertaken, regardless of how important it might be not to exercise or reach 10K steps. Furthermore, being available 24/7, unable to switch off from our phones, our emails and social media is exhausting and stress-inducing, and managing our everyday life as well as navigating our increasing reliance on this tech is incredibly hard to balance. You are not alone in these challenges; its so hard to switch off from because they are addictive, and they are designed to be that way!

Digital health is now a way of life under the economics of surveillance and platform capitalism, as we all increasingly become autonomous managers of our healthcare via technology, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID- 19 pandemic. The ‘digital health self’, I argue, is the embodiment of evolving with and navigating our everyday lives, traversing between personal lifestyle choice, shifting neoliberal international healthcare and governmental policies, technological advancements and digital capitalism. Our digital behaviours have become a part of an individual’s daily tech habits, and in turn their ‘addictive’ or compulsive nature, must also be included as part of one’s ‘digital health’. From adjusting your physical movements, to capturing more steps, to being unable to stop scrolling social media can all now be considered as part of the arsenal of digital economy practices that impact one’s health, mentally or physically – and in many instances both!

The Digital Health Self

We cannot remove or detach ourselves from our digital world. It both helps and hinders our daily life in a multitude of ways, from its’ convenience and increasing productivity, to screentime saturation and addictive doom scrolling. This book highlights the lived reality of our everyday experiences with tech to understand exactly how it might harm your mental and physical health so you, its’ reader, can live better with it. We conclude by asking what does this mean for the future of the relationship between tech, our bodies, and health?


Dr. Kent’s first book ‘The Digital Health Self: Wellness, Tracking and Social Media’ has recently been published by Bristol University Press.

In this story

Rachael Kent

Rachael Kent

Lecturer in Digital Economy & Society Education

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