Cultures of consumption within GPS speedsurfing
Paper in proceedings, 2014
The phenomenon dubbed “the quantified self movement” is gathering pace and increasingly making headlines in popular media. There is now a wide variety of communities that measure different aspects of their bodies and lives, sharing the results online, turning it into “big data”. Outside observers have pointed to the apparent narcissism of such practices – and indeed, one can imagine a number of theoretical prisms through which to analyse this phenomenon.
This paper, however, focuses on how the community members themselves experience such self-measurement. Based on a participant observer, micro-ethnographic study of windsurfers that use GPS devices to monitor and share the details of their windsurfing sessions, it questions the extent to which concepts like narcissism or alienation are useful for describing the practices in question.
The paper suggests that the prime effect of the introduction of GPS tracking is the establishment of an objective measure of skills and aptitude. This, in turn, prompts a heightened desire for state-of-the-art equipment. In other words, the dispersion of self-measurement technology has democratised competitive speedsurfing, but at the same time sharpened the element of competitive consumption within the sport. Beyond the description of the community in question, the paper also reflects upon whether these findings can be applied to the self-quantification movement and its place within the contemporary economy.