Increasingly, we live in a world that compels us to track our movements, habits, diet, and routines. Simultaneously, corporations and governments also try to track our behavior in an effort to create predictive analytics or gather other useful information about citizens and users. This phenomenon provokes a number of important questions: What is the history of tracking? Who decided it was a good idea? What do people ‘get’ from tracking their behavior? Why are corporations so invested in learning our behavior? How can we best live in this world that seeks to quantify our lives, turning everything we do into data and information?
This course is designed to give students an overview in these critical issues by allowing them to explore the many dimensions of tracking. It will be split into two separate but related halves: self-tracking and surveillance. The first half of the course will be devoted to studying processes of personal record-keeping—from diaries and memoirs to FitBits and calorie counters. Together, we will try to understand why people find these practices useful as we ourselves take part in them, as well as read think-pieces and research articles by top commentators and scholars. The second half of the course will shift to examine the ways that we ourselves are tracked—through surveillance cameras, through credit card purchases, through Google searches, and more. We will examine the various institutions which track our behavior—from Kroger to the United States government—and discuss the various stakes of this tracking. As the course develops towards its conclusion, we will think about the relationship our individual bodies and the larger cultural and political institution that want to “know” our bodies.
Throughout the course, students will engage in a series of reflective activities that encourage them to think through the embodied and everyday practices of tracking. By bringing the results of these activities into our classroom, we will have the opportunity to discuss the major differences between our own routines and habits, and what the information we collectively generate “reveals” about our class