Technologies-In-Context: Using Your Smartphone to Measure Your Cortisol Levels

At the June joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society in Chicago, Joel Ehrenkranz and colleagues from the Department of Medicine at Intermountain Healthcare in Murray, Utah presented a method of measuring the stress hormone cortisol using people’s smartphones, a saliva sample, software and a tube. Ehrenkranz and his colleagues explained that people would be able to use their device in conjunction with their smartphone to test their cortisol levels and receive results in about 5-10 mintues for the total cost of about five dollars. In contrast, currently if one wants to test their cortisol levels with a salivary test, their most reliable option is to have the test performed by a laboratory. Using a laboratory, people must generally wait up to a week for their results and must pay a fee of fifteen to fifty dollars. Ehrenkranz and his team mentioned that their device would be particualrly useful for people with medical conditions that intensify with a rise in cortisol levels; and, that if such people were able to better monitor their cortisol levels they might also be able to better monitor their condition.

Reading this article, I was struck by the notion of traditional laboratory practices going out into everyday spaces, such as smartphones sitting in people’s pockets and backpacks etc. Thinking about this movement in lab practices brought to mind Bruno Latour’s chapter “Centres of Calculation” (in Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society), which discusses, among other things, the power that scientists derive from their laboratories. In previous historical moments, laboratories have been stationary entities. However, technology is making lab practices increasingly mobile – as Ehrenkranz and co.’s device demonstrates. With this in mind, I wonder what role the mobility and individualized commodification of labs might play in the power that scientists and other technologists wield?

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