Sensing Health

Bodies, Data, and Digital Health Technologies

Subjects: Media Studies, New Media, Health & Medicine, Health Policy & Management, Digital Projects, Cultural Studies, American Studies, Disability Studies
Paperback : 9780472056590, 302 pages, 18, 6 x 9, February 2024
Hardcover : 9780472076598, 302 pages, 18, 6 x 9, February 2024
Open Access : 9780472904013, 302 pages, 18, 6 x 9, February 2024

The open-access publication of this book was supported by The Eugene B. Power Fund.
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An exploration of the experience of “health” in the age of the smart watch

Table of contents

Table of Contents
Introduction: Sensing Health Describing (Digital) HealthDefining Health
Note on Language Chapter 1: Life as Cycle: The Datafication of Menstrual Health Managing Excess and Excretion
Biomedical Cycles
Life as Cycle
Rethinking Menstrual Management Chapter 2: Pleasure Points: Sextech and Measuring Sexual Wellness Quantifying Sex and Pleasure
Selling Sexual Wellness
Optimizing Pleasure
The Purpose of Pleasure? Chapter 3: Every Step Counts: Analyzing Fitness Tracking Technologies Health as/and Fitness
Measure and Improve
Feeling Fit? Chapter 4: Meditation and Breathing Technologies and the Biomedicalization of Wellness From Health to Wellbeing
The Relaxation Response and the Rise of Evidence-Based Wellness
“Making the intangible tangible”
From Wellbeing to Feeling Health Chapter 5: Bodies in Action: Measuring Movement and Intensity “Make your body the sexiest outfit you’ll ever own”
Feedback on Form
Health as “Homelike Being-in-the-World” Bibliography


In the age of Apple Watches and Fitbits, the concept of “health” emerges through an embodied experience of a digital health device or platform, not simply through the biomedical data it provides. Sensing Health: Bodies, Data, and Digital Health Technologies analyzes popular digital health technologies as aesthetic experiences to understand how these devices and platforms have impacted the way individuals perceive their bodies, behaviors, health, and well-being. By tracing design alongside embodied experiences of digital health, Kressbach shows how these technologies aim to quantify, track and regulate the body, while at the same time producing moments that bring the body’s affordances and relationship to the fore. This mediated experience of “health” may offer an alternative to biomedical definitions that define health against illness.

To capture and analyze digital health experiences, Kressbach develops a method that combines descriptive practices from Film and Media Studies and Phenomenology. After examining the design and feedback structures of digital health platforms and devices, the author uses her own first-person accounts to analyze the impact of the technology on her body, behaviors, and perception of health. Across five chapters focused on different categories of digital health—menstrual trackers, sexual wellness technologies, fitness trackers, meditation and breathing technologies, and posture and running wearables—Sensing Health demonstrates a method of analysis that acknowledges and critiques the biomedical structures of digital health technology while remaining attentive to the lived experiences of users. Through a focus on the intersection of technological design and experience, this method can be used by researchers, scholars, designers, and developers alike. 

Mikki Kressbach is an Assistant Professor of Film, TV and Media Studies at Loyola Marymount University.

“We are surrounded by technologies that measure our bodies, providing us data that aims to help us improve our health. Many of these technologies objectify our bodies, delivering reductionist accounts of complex biological processes. In Sensing Health, Kressbach shows that there is a potential for other technologies and designs that cater to the actual messiness, corporeality, secretions, and overall complexities of our changing bodies, instead of concealing or simplifying them.”
—Kristina Höök, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

- Kristina Höök

Sensing Health examines digital health technologies coming from a variety of fields (wellbeing, fitness, health, etc.) to explore how they impact individual’s understanding and perception of health and body. Kressbach's methodology, which is grounded in the descriptive methods associated with the disciplines of film and media studies, enables her to explore aesthetic and multisensorial aspects crucial to digital health technologies design and use, aspects neglected by scholarly literature.”
—Silvia Casini, University of Aberdeen, King’s College

- Silvia Casini