Later this week I will be talking at the symposium Theorising Personal Medical Devices: New Perspectives which is hosted by the University of Cambridge Department of Public Health, Primary Care Unit and is supported by the Wellcome Trust.

I will be talking about aspects of my recently published article Exercise as Labour: Quantified Self and the Transformation of Exercise into Labour.

The Keynote speakers are:

Dr. Steve Matthewman, University of Auckland

Dr. Alex Faulkner, University of Sussex

Professor Nick Fox, University of Sheffield


I will be tweeting about the event @chrishtill

The organisers would also like to invite anyone, whether or not they will be attending, to contribute towards a virtual museum project. If you would like to make a contribution please contact Rebecca Lynch ( or Conor Farrington (, by email.



As part of the Symposium, we are hosting a multidisciplinary panel discussion inspired by Radio 4’s Museum of Curiosity – i.e. we are asking panellists to suggest technologies that they believe merit inclusion in a virtual museum, in this case of personal medical devices. The idea is to encourage interdisciplinary discussion in an interesting and fun manner.

We wanted to open an invitation to members of the Quantified Self network who might be interested in putting forward their own suggestions of personal medical devices that have somehow defined a particular medical (or related) field or which they see as of particular significance. As long as they are attached to, carried by, worn on, or otherwise interact with individuals, the devices can be of any kind whatsoever – past or present (or future!), small or large (within reason), automated or ‘dumb’, simple or complex. They don’t even have to be ostensibly ‘medical’ devices as long as a rationale can be made for their serving medical ends – i.e. Jawbones, Fitbits, Garmin all welcome!

We would be very grateful if you would consider contributing. If possible, we would like suggestions to be passed on by 8th September, accompanied by a short piece of text (e.g. up to 300 words) making a case for the device’s inclusion. Suggestions would be displayed at the symposium, online, and in future events. In order to illustrate the kind of thing we are looking for, I have included below the suggestion received from Professor Simon Griffin of the Primary Care Unit, University of Cambridge.

The Glucometer

Just under 100 years ago individuals who developed type 1 diabetes endured a short and poor quality existence. The discovery of insulin (by a team led by Banting, a GP) and fairly rapid industrialisation of its manufacture, changed the outlook radically and saved the lives of people like RD Lawrence who with fellow diabetes patient (albeit Type 2 diabetes) HG Wells established the charity Diabetes UK. Being able to measure glucose levels has been a key element of the management of Type 1 diabetes, such that if patients can achieve near normal glycaemic control then their risk of the life-changing complications can be minimised and life expectancy near-normalised.

However, glucometers also represent the  lack of progress that has been made over 100 years. Patients still have to test and inject themselves several times per day, although in the last few years there has been some progress (on this campus) with a ‘closed loop’ sensing and insulin delivery system. Glucometers also represent the fallacy that the ‘measured self’ necessarily leads to behaviour change and improved outcomes, and the persuasive influence of industry. For Type 2 diabetes there is little evidence that glucometers (and knowing one’s blood glucose value at a given point in time) improve control of blood glucose, and yet relatively recently the NHS was spending more on  expensive but ineffective testing strips (the companies give out the meters for free knowing that they will profit over the lifetime of strip sales) than on the medication that reduces high levels of blood glucose. Glucometers also represent the seduction of the measurable, leading to undue emphasis on prescribing expensive drugs to reduce blood glucose which of course defines diabetes but is not the most important risk factor for the main complications of diabetes.

Professor Simon Griffin


University of Cambridge


Below is the abstract for the event.

Fuelled by the accelerating pace of technological development and a general shift to personalised, patient-led medicine alongside the growing Quantified Self and Big Data movements, the emerging field of personal medical devices is one which is advancing rapidly across multiple domains and disciplines – so rapidly that conceptual and empirical understandings of personal medical devices, and their clinical, social and philosophical implications, often lag behind new developments and interventions. Personal medical devices – devices that are attached to, worn by, interacted with, or carried by individuals for the purposes of generating biomedical data and/or carrying out medical interventions with/on the person concerned – have become increasingly significant in clinical and extra-clinical contexts owing to a range of factors including the growth of multimorbidity and chronic disease in ageing populations and the increasing sophistication and miniaturisation of personal devices themselves.

The aim of this symposium is to consider recent theoretical developments in the humanities and social sciences in relation to personal medical devices, and to address important gaps in understanding such as the differences between wearable and non-wearable devices, the ontological implications of personal devices for concepts of the body, the self, and technology, and the extent to which such questions may arise with particular force owing to ‘new’ technologies.

The symposium takes place at the University of Cambridge over two days, with the first day consisting of papers and keynote presentations, and with the second day consisting of further discussion and a concluding panel of invited discussants from a range of backgrounds including computing science, clinical medicine, technology, and philosophy.

The symposium combines invited and submitted papers from established and emerging scholars to consider how recent theoretical literature can shed light on current debates surrounding personal medical devices these and other important issues. Some of the questions that papers may address include:

  • How ‘personal’ are personal medical devices?
  • How new are ‘new’ medical technologies?
  • What are the implications of personal medical devices for enduring philosophical dualities such as mind/body and self/society?
  • What are the implications of personal medical devices for understandings of illness, medicine, and technology?
  • How can the interaction of diverse theoretical perspectives drive new conceptual understandings of personal medical devices?