Digital Care: Agency and Temporality in Young People’s Use of Health Apps

Susanna Helen Trnka


This paper draws from interviews with 21 young New Zealanders, ages 16-24, to examine how health apps shape young people’s experiences of themselves as agentive subjects in relation to their physical and mental wellbeing. Focusing on the intended and unintended effects of health apps, I examine how digital care technologies recast the spatiality and temporality of healthcare, enabling new ways of constituting and tracking health, expanding possibilities of interactive exchanges with others, and redistributing a sense of agency and control. In many ways, the forms of self-governance that health apps engender are no different from other moves to promote increased self-responsibility that are cultivated as part of advanced liberalism. However, I argue that by collapsing the spatial and temporal relations of technology use, health apps not only heighten opportunities for adopting self-responsibility, but also, as many young people attest, promote the feeling that there is no escaping from them. The result is that for many young people having a sense of control and responsibility over their health comes to be calibrated against not only the inherent inter-sociality of care (i.e. young people’s desires to both give and receive care to and from others), but also the health and fitness “demands” seemingly made upon them by technology itself.


health apps; youth health; responsibility; temporality; care

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Copyright (c) 2016 Susanna Helen Trnka

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