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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Amusing ourselves to life : new media and the politics of interactivity Millington, Bradley


This dissertation explores the emergence of health promotion tools in the form of consumer technologies once made exclusively for entertainment and/or communication. Though media consumption has historically been deemed a sedentary pastime, video games, mobile phones, and other devices have recently been made for the explicit purpose of prompting physical and cognitive exercise. Despite the growing popularity of what I call ‘Interactive Health Commodities’ like the Nintendo Wii, however, there remains a conspicuous absence of sociological research on: a) the methods by which these products purportedly ameliorate health and fitness; b) the subjectivities that are said to arise from their use; and c) the marketing strategies used to appeal to different consumer demographics. To address these issues, this research adopts a ‘contextual cultural studies’ approach, which is to say it is concerned with the operation of new technologies in relation to broader social, economic, and political circumstances. It specifically involves three inter-related case studies, each of which examines a particular commodity-form through an analysis of online marketing documents. The first case study focuses on an interview series distributed by Nintendo on the development of the popular Wii and Wii Fit video games. Drawing from Latour (1999), it considers how these technologies were designed to connect with human users, and how this concomitantly enables ‘governmental’ (Foucault, 1997) and ‘post-disciplinary’ (Rabinow, 1996) forms of control. The second case study centres on the portrayal of ‘brain games’ as tools for mitigating ageing-related risks. It investigates how, by ‘screening and intervening’ in cognitive health (Rose, 2008), these technologies imagine ageing in both positive and problematic ways. Finally, the third case study features content and textual analyses of product descriptions for a broad selection of smartphone health and fitness ‘apps’. These mobile devices are studied for their novel means of transmitting information and initiating surveillance. Taken together, the case studies reveal how, in one sense, Interactive Health Commodities are enabling, as they encourage exercise from a range of consumer demographics. These technologies are at once problematic, however, in that they tend to promote narrow health and fitness ideals, while also tying health inextricably to consumerism.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International