Analysis & Opinions - Vignettes@STS.Next.20

Technological Somnambulism Revisited: Sleeping through the New Invisible Surveillance Technologies

| December 31, 2012

A few months ago, I discovered that my excessive fatigue and uneasy sleep were caused by an underlying condition of severe sleep apnea. This malady causes one to stop breathing while sleeping. Humans of course, need to breathe, so the end result is that sufferers keep waking up every 5 minutes or so to restart the breathing process, all the while remaining blissfully unaware of multiple interruptions to their sleep. That is, until the fatigue begins upon waking. In my case, the recommended treatment was a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airways Pressure) machine. The CPAP machine, which is basically a refined air blower with a mask attached, has made a tremendous difference to my quality of life. Provided I use it as directed, I am actually able to get some sleep while sleeping.

My first appointment to see the sleep physician after six months of using the machine is when I discovered that my new medical device had been spying on me from the day I brought it home. Upon taking the machine in with me (as requested by my doctor's office), I discovered to my immense shock that my machine was fitted with a small removable data card which the attendant readily removed and relieved of accumulated data shortly before I began my meeting with the doctor. During our conversation, I was asked how many hours of sleep I was getting. I claimed six, but was chidingly informed that my average over the past 30 days was just a little over five hours, and I would need to increase this number to fully enjoy the benefits of my prescribed treatment. This was how I learned that my CPAP was actively collecting data on my sleeping habits, uploading it to an SD card, and showing up my unreliable witnessing as a patient.

While one could discuss the disciplining effects of being aware of the CPAP's surveillance, what is of perhaps more interest is the sheer casualness of the episode. At no time during my interaction with the medical staff in the process of picking up the CPAP machine did anyone inform me that the machine would be collecting data on my sleeping hours....

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Suggested Further Reading:

  • Winner, Langdon. 1986.  The Whale and the Reactor: A search for limits in an age of high technology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Odumosu, Tolu.“Technological Somnambulism Revisited: Sleeping through the New Invisible Surveillance Technologies.” Vignettes@STS.Next.20, December 31, 2012.