Hi! My name is Judith. I would like to talk to you about period apps.
Period apps play a role in a part of our lives that is extremely intimate. They are one of the most downloaded health apps worldwide. Understanding why someone tracks their period can tell you a lot about who they are and who they want to be, how they spend their lives and how they try to change their lives. Period apps are often at the centre of our relationships with ourselves and those we love the most.
Our digital representation might help us understand ourselves, organise our calendar, plan activities, or improve our health. Tracking my own period has helped me understand my own body much better. This has definitely improved my life in a significant way. At the same time, it is impossible to fully grasp someone through data. Let alone grasp the wide variety of humans that exist, who all have a wide variety of needs, wants and wishes. We can only quantify ourselves through data to a certain degree.
Many people enter their personal data into tracking apps without thinking about how that data is processed and what that could mean for our lives. There are also many people that do so while questioning the processes behind the app, but who feel that the processes are too complicated to comprehend. Indeed, looking into it is rather time consuming, just reading most terms and conditions will take you hours if not days or weeks. Still, it’s important to realise that when we track ourselves, we are often also tracked by others.
The use of period apps
The nature of the data that goes into period apps is very private. Private in the sense of ‘only for one person or group and not for everyone’. It contains information most people would not share with just anyone. The data can represent secrets, political viewpoints, traumatic and euphoric events. At the same time, by entering your data into an app, it may also become private, in the sense of ‘controlled by a company’ – though whether or not that’s the case, differs per app.
We live in a digital period where digital developments are rapidly evolving. This comes with many opportunities to empower ourselves. We also live in an age where data is an important way of gaining access to services. In return, our data is processed, analysed and used by companies who often have different objectives than most of us.
I would like to learn more about the time we live in and the direction we are headed in. I think the way we use period apps can tell us something about our relationship with ourselves, but also about our society. Whatever direction we are headed, technology will be entangled in our lives either way. If we want direction over its direction, it is important we discuss what role technology should play and create ways in which it can help us flourish.
The Digital Period is an open research project that examines my own and society’s relationship with technology. My aim for this project is for it to be personal, political, communal and reflective. I will examine the individual and collective values behind tracking, what exactly happens behind the user’s interface of most conventional period-tracking apps and what the future of our technology might look like.
I am not sure what this project will bring me, and it is quite scary to conduct it so publicly. Still, I hope we can figure it out together. In addition to reading a lot, I am conducting a series of interviews (both live and online) with people who track (and don’t track) their periods, people who build period apps and academics. I am focussing on three themes:
- Values. Why do people track their period? Why is that important to them?
- Technology. How do period apps work? Do they align with individual and public values?
- New futures. How can we (re)imagine technology that works for us?
Are you conducting research on design of health apps, the quantified self, autonomy and technology, surveillance capitalism or another subject relevant to this topic? Do you work on a period tracking app? Are you reconstructing a new narrative technology through art, music or poetry? Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share? I would love to get in touch with you!
Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and become part of The Digital Period journey. Or subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates via the homepage at the bottom. My findings will turn into a podcast series late 2023.
In my next blog, I will discuss a number of seemingly unrelated, miscellaneous, significant events about the summer of 2022 that led me to this project.