I’m very interested in this concept, which I was introduced to through the work of Pierpaolo Donati and Andrea Maccarini earlier this year. It emerged from the work of Arnold Gehlen and refers to the role of human institutions in unburdening us from existential demands. This is quoted from his Human Beings and Institutions on pg 257 of Social Theory: Twenty Introductory Lectures by Hans Joas and Wolfgang Knobl. He writes that institutions

are those entities which enable a being, a being at risk, unstable and affectively overburdened by nature, to put up with his fellows and wit himself, something on the basis of which one can count on and rely on oneself and others. On the one hand, human objectives are jointly tackled and pursued within these institutions; on the other, people gear themselves toward definitive certainties of doing and to doing with in them, with the extraordinary benefit that their inner life is stabilized, so that they do not have to deal with profound emotional issues or make fundamental decisions at every turn.

In an interesting essay last year, Will Davies reflected on the ‘pleasure of dependence’ in a way which captures my understanding of entlastung. It can be a relief to trust in something outside of ourselves, settling into dependence on the understanding that our context is defined by a degree of reliability due to an agency other than our own:

I have a memory from childhood, a happy memory — one of complete trust and comfort. It’s dark, and I’m kneeling in the tiny floor area of the back seat of a car, resting my head on the seat. I’m perhaps six years old. I look upward to the window, through which I can see streetlights and buildings rushing by in a foreign town whose name and location I’m completely unaware of. In the front seats sit my parents, and in front of them, the warm yellow and red glow of the dashboard, with my dad at the steering wheel.

Contrary to the sentiment of so many ads and products, this memory reminds me that dependence can be a source of deep, almost visceral pleasure: to know nothing of where one is going, to have no responsibility for how one gets there or the risks involved. I must have knelt on the floor of the car backward to further increase that feeling of powerlessness as I stared up at the passing lights.


At a time when entlastung is failing, when institutions are coming to lose this capacity to unburden us, could faith in self-tracking, big data and digital technology fill the gap? The technological system as a whole comes to constitute the remaining possibility of entlastung and we enthusiastically throw ourselves into its embrace, as the only way left to feel some relief from the creeping anxiety that characterises daily life.

The essay by Will Davies is really worth reading: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-data-sublime/

I came across an interesting extract in The New Ruthless Economy, by Simon Head, which shone an interesting light on the relationship between self-tracking and social tracking. From loc 1318:

Paula Dabbart, an employee ployee at an American Airlines reservations center in Tucson, said that she wore a stopwatch on a string around her neck to time each break. She felt that, for her own protection, she had to log all her movements.

A couple of years ago I purchased a Nike Fuel Band, partly out of a curiosity driven by my nascent interest in self-tracking and partly out of a desire to rationalise not going to the gym. If I was planning to conduct research on self-tracking practices then it seemed important to me to actually try them myself. However over the following years, my interest in self-tracking became downgraded to that of something like urbanism, as a topic that fascinates me but that I realise I have nothing useful to say on, while my engagement (entrapment?) in self-tracking practices remained, first through the fuel band then two successive jawbone bands.

I’ve been given cause to reflect on this recently by the fact that my jawbone has broken twice in the space of a week (ouch) giving me a respite from the metricised tyranny to which I had merrily subjected myself over the previous years. In defence of the jawbone: the soft wakeup function can be an extremely pleasant way to wake up. It starts buzzing up to half an hour before a set time when it detects, albeit by way of questionable proxies, you are sleeping most lightly, with the intention of reducing drowsiness. I think there’s something to this but there’s also an obvious invitation to confirmation bias: if you set a device to wake you up without feeling drowsy then you’re much more likely to ask yourself ‘am I feeling drowsy?’ when you wake up and attribute its absence to the magical powers of the band. The sleep tracker was also the first and only experience I’ve had of ‘self-knowledge through numbers’. It turns out I had a persistent habit of going to bed very early when I was sleep deprived then it taking hours for me to get to sleep i.e. it would usually take me 10 minutes to get to sleep if I went to bed 10pm-12pm but hours if I went to bed earlier. Thus undermining the point of going to bed early. I also saw for the first time how much alcohol would undermine the quality of my sleep, prompting a year long experiment with cutting back on and then completely giving up alcohol, which I’m now in turn giving up on (I missed red wine & craft beer) but that was nonetheless enormously healthy for me as a person.

Now those defensive remarks are out of the way: the jawbone is fucking creepy. I’ve written about the idleness alarm and how readily the concept would lend itself to invasive applications. But I’m wondering now about how systematically the measurements have tended to crowd out the value of what is being measured within my own psyche. My standard defence of self-tracking had been that voluntary self-tracking is an augmentation of reflexivity: if you reflexively decide that exercise is good and you want to incorporate more exercise into your life, these technological practices can be useful tools to overcome some of the all-too-human propensities which undermine the projects of self-cultivation we seek to pursue. Furthermore, critics of self-tracking often mistake the narrative of self-tracking (self-knowledge through numbers) for its moral psychology, something which I think is empirically variable but I suspect has far more in common with neo-ascetic regimes like ‘lifestyle minimalism’ and ‘life hacking’ than these critics tend to recognise. The practices, the devices, the contexts and the sensibilities upon which the diffusion of ‘self-tracking’ depends may all be new. But this self-self relation simply isn’t and anyone who fails to recognise this has a poor grasp of ‘the self’, its history or both.

Nonetheless, what I’m now recognising is how what can be reflexively taken up as an extension of one’s agency – in order to increase our capacity to act on 2nd order desires (“I want to want to exercise”) in the face of 1st order whims (“I don’t want to go to the gym today”) – nonetheless acts back iteratively upon the agent in a way that moulds their dispositions towards reflexivity. What do I mean? Firstly, self-tracking practices are outcome orientated. What matters is a completed activity. This doesn’t magically remove your capacity to enjoy an activity but it does mitigate against it: if you’re going for a walk because your jawbone tells you to, it’s not impossible that you’ll nonetheless enjoy the walk, the scenery, being outside etc but the mentality of self-tracking never encourages and sometimes actively undermines the attentiveness necessary for this enjoyment to emerge during the walk. Secondly, this mattering is unstable unless the completed activity is measured in a reliable way: the whole edifice starts to crack if you begin to think about how the instruments may be deliberately or accidentally gamed, as well as the spheres of errancy (e.g. sleep vs. lying perfectly still unable to sleep) that become obvious once you’ve used a band for a bit. That this activity matters to you necessitates continued faith, perhaps ontological security in the sense of a willingness to act ‘as if’ the measurement is as objective as it says it is, in the instruments and your use of them. Thirdly, this mattering is contingent upon continued submission to the system. If your band breaks or you cease using it, perhaps switching to a competitor, the meaningfulness of what you’ve been doing is imperilled in proportion to the scale of the technological transition.

This is all a long winded way of saying that I’ve changed my views on self-tracking. I do find it creepy after all. But I still think many of the critics misunderstand exactly what’s going on here. I think cessation of self-tracking is an enormously important empirical topic, without which discussion of self-tracking will inevitably remain prone to over-generalisation. We also need longitudinal qualitative studies of self-tracking, serious and extended versions of the auto-ethnographic reflections I’ve tried to outline here, in order to better understand how these activities unfold temporally in a way able to change both the person and the activity.

Background to the video here. I have to admit that I’d assumed this sort of thing was at least a decade away. What’s so creepy about this (beyond “because of this your feeling of safety increased”) is how ‘joined up’ the proposed monitoring is. Rather than piecemeal monitoring that gradually gets joined up in response to instrumental concerns, this company is proposing total monitoring from the outset because of the kinds of interventions it can facilitate.

This looks interesting:


Lifelogging Lab


Thursday, October 23, 2014 – 12:00


If you could measure everything…would you?

Calling all trackers, quantifiers, analysers and creative counters

Science Gallery is seeking proposals for its upcoming exhibition LIFELOGGING LAB, which will open in February 2015.

Exhibition and laboratory will fuse into an immersive space where visitors will explore one of the remaining frontiers of data science: themselves. Looking at a future of sensors, recordings, surveillance, reflections and analysis – how will we choose to use the quantifiable self, and how will we record and analyse the unquantifiable? Does this mean the end of privacy, or just an evolution of what we currently understand as ‘private life’?

From critical to creative, LIFELOGGING LAB will ask artists, designers and philosophers ‘where do we go from here’ and question whether we can record and analyse happiness, beauty and aesthetics the same way we record footsteps and heartbeats. This exhibition will explore novel methods for capturing data, for visualising, and for analysing the insights that new data affords us about ourselves and society. Does what is measured necessarily improve? Will we like what we see, and who will be allowed to see it? Can we control how our data is used, and can we quantify the benefits and risks of data sharing to ourselves and to society?

Visitors will get to join in data logging experiments that will capture continuous physiological data on themselves, and explore new ways of recording emotional, ephemeral, geographic, and even aesthetic data alongside a ‘crack team’ of computer scientists, physiologists and health experts. They will have the opportunity to explore this data and see what insights can be gleaned from it.

Exploring of the cutting edge of data analysis, bio-data collection, and visualisation raises the question: If you could measure everything….would you? If everything could be measured about a society, what opportunities would that present for optimisation of transport, urban systems, and how we live?

We’re particularly interested in proposals on the quantified self and other ‘LifeLogging’ movements, sensors and biomedical diagnostics, wearable and mobile technology, personal and social data visualisation, consumer sports sensors, explorations of data measurement and sharing and ideas for logging the presently unquantifiable – happiness, love, beauty, aesthetics etc. We are also interested in 1-week ‘residency’ proposals for artists, designers, or scientists to exhibit/work/experiment in the gallery for a week.


We are seeking up to 14 works for the LIFELOGGING LAB exhibition. Proposals will be funded up to a maximum budget of €2600 (please note this is a maximum, not a target). Two outstanding original works may be commissioned with a higher budget of up to €7500.


  • Entry deadline: October 23rd, 2014
  • Applicants will hear back on or before November 17th, 2014
  • Works will generally be installed week beginning Monday February 9th, 2015
  • Launch of Exhibition on Thursday February 12th, 2015

Wellcome Trust Symposium on New Conceptual Approaches to Personal Medical Devices

18th-19th September 2014
Post-doctoral Suite, 16 Mill Lane, University of Cambridge, Cambridge

Fuelled by the accelerating pace of technological development and a general shift to personalised, patient-led medicine alongside the growing Quantified Self and Big Data movements, the emerging field of personal medical devices is one which is advancing rapidly across multiple domains and disciplines – so rapidly that conceptual and empirical understandings of personal medical devices, and their clinical, social and philosophical implications, often lag behind new developments and interventions. Personal medical devices – devices that are attached to, worn by, interacted with, or carried by individuals for the purposes of generating biomedical data and/or carrying out medical interventions with/on the person concerned – have become increasingly significant in clinical and extra-clinical contexts owing to a range of factors including the growth of multimorbidity and chronic disease in ageing populations and the increasing sophistication and miniaturisation of personal devices themselves.
The aim of this symposium is to consider recent theoretical developments in the humanities and social sciences in relation to personal medical devices, and to address important gaps in understanding such as the differences between wearable and non-wearable devices, the ontological implications of personal devices for concepts of the body, the self, and technology, and the extent to which such questions may arise with particular force owing to ‘new’ technologies.
The symposium takes place at the University of Cambridge over two days, with the first day consisting of papers and keynote presentations, and with the second day consisting of further discussion and a concluding panel of invited discussants from a range of backgrounds including computing science, clinical medicine, technology, and philosophy.
The symposium combines invited and submitted papers from established and emerging scholars to consider how recent theoretical literature can shed light on current debates surrounding personal medical devices these and other important issues. Some of the questions that papers may address include:
•       How ‘personal’ are personal medical devices?
•       How new are ‘new’ medical technologies?
•       What are the implications of personal medical devices for enduring philosophical dualities such as mind/body and self/society?
•       What are the implications of personal medical devices for understandings of illness, medicine, and technology?
•       How can the interaction of diverse theoretical perspectives drive new conceptual understandings of personal medical devices?
Registration only £15 – includes lunches, refreshments, and drinks reception. Register here if interested:


As part of the Symposium, we are hosting a multidisciplinary panel discussion inspired by Radio 4’s Museum of Curiosity – i.e. we are asking panellists to suggest technologies that they believe merit inclusion in a virtual museum, in this case of personal medical devices. The idea is to encourage interdisciplinary discussion in an interesting and fun manner.

We wanted to open an invitation to members of the Quantified Self network who might be interested in putting forward their own suggestions of personal medical devices that have somehow defined a particular medical (or related) field or which they see as of particular significance. As long as they are attached to, carried by, worn on, or otherwise interact with individuals, the devices can be of any kind whatsoever – past or present (or future!), small or large (within reason), automated or ‘dumb’, simple or complex. They don’t even have to be ostensibly ‘medical’ devices as long as a rationale can be made for their serving medical ends – i.e. Jawbones, Fitbits, Garmin all welcome!

We would be very grateful if you would consider contributing. If possible, we would like suggestions to be passed on by 8th September, accompanied by a short piece of text (e.g. up to 300 words) making a case for the device’s inclusion. Suggestions would be displayed at the symposium, online, and in future events. In order to illustrate the kind of thing we are looking for, I have included below the suggestion received from Professor Simon Griffin of the Primary Care Unit, University of Cambridge.

We hope you will consider being involved in this way in what promises to be a very interesting and stimulating event.

Best wishes,
Conor Farrington and Rebecca Lynch

What’s it like to be a junior analyst on Wall Street making $70,000 a year in your early 20s? What sort of people are drawn towards this career path? Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits attempts to answer these questions by tracking a handful of millennial recruits to Wall Street as they navigate a post-crash environment that has changed in some ways yet stubbornly remains the same in others. This immensely readable book is something akin to longitudinal quantitative research, albeit in an obviously journalistic mode, recurrently interviewing these recent graduates as they attempt to cope with the 18 hour working days considered the norm for new analysts. It’s a fascinating read in many respects, not least of all because of its counter-intuitive insights into how graduates are drawn to Wall Street and how they come to remain there:

As strange as it sounds, a big paycheck may not in fact be central to Wall Street’s allure for a certain cohort of young people. This possibility was explained to me several weeks before my Penn trip by a second-year Goldman Sachs analyst, who stopped me short when I posited that college students flock to Wall Street in order to cash in. “Money is part of it,” he said. “But mostly, they do it because it’s easy.” He proceeded to explain that by coming onto campus to recruit, by blitzing students with information and making the application process as simple as dropping a résumé into a box, by following up relentlessly and promising to inform applicants about job offers in the fall of their senior year—months before firms in most other industries—Wall Street banks had made themselves the obvious destinations for students at top-tier colleges who are confused about their careers, don’t want to lock themselves in to a narrow preprofessional track by going to law or medical school, and are looking to put off the big decisions for two years while they figure things out. Banks, in other words, have become extremely skilled at appealing to the anxieties of overachieving young people and inserting themselves as the solution to those worries. And the irony is that although we think of Wall Street as a risk-loving business, the recruiting process often appeals most to the terrified and insecure.

I think this argument coheres with many of the insights that can be found within the emerging adulthoods literature. Immediate material rewards in a climate of endemic insecurity and the promise of postponing difficult decisions by a number of years would inevitably seem tempting to many who might have been profoundly unlikely to be drawn into the orbit of finance in the 1980s or 1990s (not least of all because of the radically different climate greeting new graduates in those decades). However this isn’t true of all, with the author recognising the likelihood that those young financiers willing to risk their jobs by sharing their anxieties with him are likely to be atypical. What I found particularly compelling though was his insight into what it is like day-to-day to live with the demands placed upon the young analysts:

Today, as before the financial crisis, it’s not uncommon for a first-year IBD analyst to work one hundred hours a week—the equivalent of sixteen hours a day during the week, then a mere ten hours on each weekend day. Which is not to say that these twenty-two-year-olds are actively doing one hundred hours’ worth of work every week. In fact, many sit around idly for hours a day, listening to music or reading their favorite blogs while they wait for a more senior banker to assign them work. (These drop-offs are never pleasant, but they’re worst when they happen at 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. as the senior banker is leaving for the day, giving the analyst a graveyard shift’s worth of work before he or she can go home and sleep.)

In an important sense they forego personal responsibility to choose how to spend their time, with the challenges this poses for synchronising everyday routine with longer term plans and aspirations. They are cut off from the non-financial world, with social media blocked within the offices where they spend 18 hours each day and on site services designed to minimise the need for errands and their attendant human contact outside the firm. They are encouraged to socialise together, within specific venues that graduate in cost and prestige as the analysts work their way through the clearly delineated hierarchy. Rigid sartorial norms are enforced aggressively: don’t over-dress but don’t under-dress. Certainly don’t out-dress the boss. The whole thing generates something the author describes as cognitive triage, with everyday demands blotting out reflexivity about the medium and the long term:

The compartmentalization phenomenon turned out to be bigger than Jeremy and Samson, and bigger even than Goldman Sachs. As I interviewed dozens of young analysts at firms across the financial sector, I heard the same kinds of answers to my questions about morality and ethics: “I don’t know, I never really think about it.” “I’m just trying not to fuck up.” “Dude, I’m so far away from anything like that…” Entry-level analysts, it seemed, were so routinely exhausted, and so minutely focused on their day-to-day tasks—on pleasing their bosses, nailing every page of their pitch books, and avoiding getting in trouble—that they often avoided thinking about the big picture. It was a sort of cognitive triage, and daily concerns always took priority over long-term, large-scale worries. Still, there was no doubt that these worries existe

I love this phrase. I think ‘cognitive triage’ is something by no means restricted to those working in finance. However what the author skilfully demonstrates is how cognitive triage can work to render these frantic actors uniquely susceptible to professional socialisation, accumulating habits of manner and outlook because the intensity of daily precludes the time for withdrawal and consideration, making it impossible to reflect in a consistent way upon whether this is really what they want to do and who they want to be.

Now take this case study and consider the potential implications of self-tracking for these young analysts whose attentional resources are consumed by cognitive triage. Deborah Lupton has suggested five modes of self-tracking and I think three of them are particularly relevant here:

  • Private self-tracking relates to self-tracking practices that are taken up voluntarily as part of the quest for self-knowledge and self-optimisation and as an often pleasurable and playful mode of selfhood. Private self-tracking, as espoused in the Quantified Self’s goal of ‘self  knowledge through numbers’, is undertaken for purely personal reasons and the data are kept private or shared only with limited and selected others. This is perhaps the most public and well-known face of self-tracking.
  • Pushed self-tracking represents a mode that departs from the private self-tracking mode in that the initial incentive for engaging in self-tracking comes from another actor or agency. Self-monitoring may be taken up voluntarily, but in response to external encouragement or advocating rather than as a personal and wholly private initiative. Examples include the move in preventive medicine, health promotion and patient self-care to encourage people to monitor their biometrics to achieve targeted health goals. The workplace has become a key site of pushed self-tracking, particularly in relation to corporate wellness programs where workers are encourage to take up self-tracking and share their data with their employer.
  • Imposed self-tracking involves the imposition of self-tracking practices upon individuals by others primarily for these others’ benefit. These include the use of tracking devices as part of worker productivity monitoring and efficiency programs. There is a fine line between pushed self-tracking and imposed self-tracking. While some elements of self-interest may still operate, people may not always have full choice over whether or not they engage in self-tracking. In the case of self-tracking in corporate wellness programs, employees must give their consent to wearing the devices and allowing employers to view their activity data. However failure to comply may lead to higher health insurance premiums enforced by an employer, as is happening in some workplaces in the United States. At its most coercive, imposed self-tracking is used in programs involving monitoring of location and drug use for probation and parole surveillance, drug addiction programs and family law and child custody monitoring.http://simplysociology.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/the-five-modes-of-self-tracking/

Given the concern to maximise one’s performance in an intensely competitive environment, it’s easy to see the appeal of personal self-tracking. This could relate to the conservation of finite resources that are perpetually being depleted by 18 hour days. It could take a more positive form of seeking to maximise efficiency but it largely amounts to the same thing. Are pushed self-tracking and imposed self-tracking equally congruent with this workplace? I suspect so but I’d like to do some more research before I attempt to draw a firm conclusion.

However assume for the sake of argument that all three forms of self-tracking above seem likely to proliferate on Wall Street. My question is this: what will be the implications of this for the ‘cognitive triage’ that Rouse describes amongst these junior analysts? I think there are good reasons to assume it will contribute to its intensification – increasing the number of day-to-day variables in relation to which each actor is required to calibrate their behaviour over the course of the day, further precluding the possibility of sustained deliberation that reaches beyond the temporal boundaries of the present day or the coming week. If this is the case then I think this concept, which is a lovely phrase for something that Margaret Archer has written about more expansively as ‘expressive reflexivity’, helps illuminate an important vector through which power is likely to be exercised in workplaces. Not as something that ‘creates’ new quantified subjects but as something that operates through the reflexivity of people within the workplace but that will (tend to) lead to a diminution in the scope of their reflexivity.

Deborah Lupton has posted a very useful item on her blog, attached to a forthcoming paper, suggesting five modes of self-tracking:

  • Private self-tracking
  • Pushed self-tracking
  • Communal self-tracking
  • Imposed self-tracking
  • Exploited self-tracking

You can read the full post here. The only one I’m not convinced of is ‘exploited self-tracking’. I otherwise really like this typology and it helps me clarify my own interest: what I’ve discussed as self-tracking and social control could be reframed helpfully as the interface between private self-tracking, pushed self-tracking and imposed self-tracking. These categories obviously blur at the edges but it’s only through identifying them that we can begin to gain purchase on the social dynamics underlying their transformation e.g. to what extent does private self-tracking and communal self-track normalise and contribute towards the expansion of pushed self-tracking and imposed self-tracking?

Earlier this week I finally bought the Jawbone Up24 after weeks of deliberation. I’d got bored with the Nike Fuel Band, losing interest in the opaque ‘fuel points’ measurement and increasingly finding it to be an unwelcome presence on my wrist. I’d also been ever more aware of how weird my sleep patterns have become in the past couple of years, cycling between rising early and staying up late, with little discernible rhyme or reason. The idea of tracking my sleep in a reasonably accurate fashion, using degree of bodily movement as a cypher for the depth of sleep, appealed to me on a reflexive level. Somewhat more practically, the Jawbone’s silent alarm sounded great: it gently wakes you by vibrating on your wrist at the period within a defined interval at which it detects you are in the lightest state of sleep. It’s only been a few days but it really seems to work. I’ve woken up refreshed in a way that feels oddly natural given the rather novel consumer technology that’s bringing it about.

So thus far I’m rather pleased with this purchase. It also looks so much better than the Fuel band. It wasn’t a major factor in my decision by any means but it’s still nice. However there is something that bothers me about it. The Jawbone Up24 has an “idle alert”. This is how the company describes the feature:

What is an Idle Alert and how does it work?The UP Idle Alert is a great way to remind you to get up and move. You can set an Idle Alert within the app, so the band will gently vibrate if you’ve been inactive for a period of time.


This sounds innocuous, right? I spend far too many hours sitting down each week. I’m either working on a computer and sitting in a chair or I’m sitting reading sociology books and papers on my sofa. It has really started to bother me and the idle alert initially struck me as a great way to help ameliorate this problematic trend in my lifestyle. I spent yesterday afternoon working my way through various bits of social theory at home, with the Jawbone gently vibrating every 15 minutes to remind me that I’d been sedentary for that length of time. I stood up, walking around the room while continuing to read and sat down again. It’s only one occasion so it would be a mistake to overgeneralise but I was struck by how much less lethargic I felt than I often would have after spending an afternoon reading at home on my own. Oddly I also forgot to drink coffee, though it’s entirely possible that was a coincidence.

However I spent this morning struggling to copy edit and format an upcoming book when I really wasn’t in the mood for it. I was trying to decipher the superficially helpful instructions provided by the publisher which were, in practice, anything other than helpful. A task that had seemed simple, albeit dull, suddenly acquired an unexpected complexity. I spent the morning getting increasingly stressed out and the Jawbone would not stop fucking vibrating…. oddly it didn’t occur to me to just turn the feature off until after lunch. The constant buzzing on my wrist, as the little device grappled for my attention in a manner that felt creepily agentive, only served to intensify my general state of irritation at the world and frustration with my lack of progress at the task at hand.

I set the ‘idle alert’. I did so because I found it an appealing idea. It was an expression of my own agency. But it left me with a sense of quite how intrusive and aggressive this technology could be if it were ever mandated. How hard is it to imagine a situation where Amazon factory workers are expected to wear similar bands, programmed to issue a vibrating warning after 15 minutes of idleness and to alert the supervisor if the worker is still idle a few minutes later? Is it at all challenging to imagine a comparable band with an RFID chip being used to track and sanction a call centre operator who spends too long in a toilet? The social arrangements invoked here are not a matter of dystopian science fiction. They already exist. My suggestion is that this technology very likely will be rolled out in such settings, at least in the absence of legislative intervention which seems unlikely. How far could it go? What will a debate about its implications look like? What role will voluntary self-trackers and the quantified self play in these debates?

As Emmanuel Lazega has argued, ironically in one of the chapters I was editing this morning, the conditionality of welfare is likely to be an important vector of diffusion for these techniques of control. Earlier this morning, enjoying a relaxed start to the day at the crack of dawn thanks to the silent alarm on my magical band, I listened to a radio discussion of ‘sobriety tags’:

People who repeatedly commit alcohol-related crime will be forced to wear ankle tags that monitor whether they are still drinking, under a year-long pilot scheme.

The “sobriety tags”, to be worn around the clock, will enforce abstinence by measuring a person’s perspiration every 30 minutes and testing whether it contains alcohol.

If any trace is found, an alert will be sent to the offender’s probation officer and they can then be recalled to court, where they may be resentenced or face sanctions such as a fine. The tags register alcohol consumption but do not monitor movement or where people are.

The scheme is being trialled for 12 months in four London boroughs – Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark and Sutton. It is anticipated that up to 150 offenders will be fitted with the tags. They will be banned from drinking alcohol for up to 120 days.

Offenders will be screened before being tagged, and the scheme will not be used on people who are alcohol-dependent and require specialist support.

The scheme, being introduced by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, builds on a similar scheme in the US and aims to reduce alcohol-related reoffending and ease pressure on the police and courts.


Consumer self-tracking devices and schemes like this serve to normalise tracking of this sort. What comes next? How hard is it to imagine a situation where a Conservative government, eager to separate ‘strivers’ from ‘skivers’ demands that welfare recipients submit to monitoring of their alcohol and nicotine intake? How hard is it to imagine a situation where recipients of weight related interventions on the NHS are made to wear activity tracking bands with the threat of withdrawn rights to healthcare in the case of unhealthy eating or sedentary lifestyles? What comes next? Part of me wants to research this stuff, looking at the subjective meanings attached to self-tracking as the devices become mainstream and analysing the assumptions loading into the emerging discourse surrounding the application of this technology for social policy. Part of me wants to write a dystopian science fiction novel about the coming techno-fascism. Part of me just wants to despair about a likely future in which the iron cage becomes an iron straight jacket.


I recently blogged about the idea of the ‘qualified self’ and why I’m drawn to this phrase. As sometimes happens, I wasn’t being enormously serious when I started writing the post but had argued myself into a new position by the end of it. I like the ‘qualified self’ because it draws attention to the aspects of self-tracking, broadly construed, which can tend to be obscured if we focus in an overly narrow way on the Quantified Self. I use capitals here in allusion to a distinction offered by Whitney Erin Boesel between the Quantified Self and quantified self: as an organised movement of sorts, the QS encompasses a very particular relationship between personal and social reflexivity: ““QSers” don’t just self-track; they also interrogate the experiences, methods, and meanings of their self-tracking practices, and of self-tracking practices generally” as Boesel puts it.

However I think the ‘big tent’ strategy she discusses as characterising the movement, if indeed we can call it that, can obscure how specific these reflexive practices are because it’s easy to mistake inclusivity for commonality. To be clear I really don’t mean this as a criticism of the Quantified Self. I think this is a very valuable thing for them to have done on a number of levels. I say this as someone who has thought about ‘big tent policies’ a lot in terms of another social movement of sorts that can be found in asexuality activism. But as with the asexual community, ‘big tents’ can obscure the differences of those within the tent. The notion of the Qualified Self appeals to me as a way of articulating certain motivations for self-tracking, techniques and attendant technologies which I worry are being subsumed under the rhetoric of the QS. Perhaps I’m even talking about an entirely different sensibility with which people engage in self-tracking? This interesting post by Deborah Lupton observes the trends in google search terms relating to these practices:

As part of my research for the book I made a Google Trends graph comparing the major terms that are used to denote the practices of voluntarily monitoring aspects of the self: self-tracking, the quantified self, life logging and personal analytics. As the resultant graph demonstrates, it was not until mid-2007 that any of these terms began to show up in Google searches. Self-tracking led the way, followed by life logging, then personal analytics. The quantified self is the newest term. It began to appear in searches in January 2010 and rose quickly in popularity, beginning to overtake self-tracking by April 2012 (although just recently self-tracking has caught up again). The quantified self, therefore, has become a well-used term, at least among people using Google Search. In another study of news coverage of the quantified self I found that the term has become increasingly used in these accounts as well.

But is it time to rethink or even relinquish the term ‘the quantified self’? For my book I prefer to use ‘self-tracking’ over the alternatives, as this term is broader and more inclusive of a range of practices (and I refer to ‘self-tracking cultures’ to denote the various social, cultural and political contexts in which self-tracking practices are carried out).


This doesn’t confirm my sense of ‘quantified self’ swallowing up the broader discursive field out of which it emerged by any means. But it is suggestive of a trend. While I agree with Deborah that “Self-tracking is not simply about quantified (or quantifiable) information”, I’m not sure it follows from this that we can detach self-tracking practices from the kinds of data that inform them in the way I perhaps wrongly read her as saying. I think epistemologies are encoded into practices and the appeal of those practices in turn must be understood in terms of personal biography. Certain types of people are led to practices under certain conditions and then contribute to the reproduction or transformation of those practices (and the broader conditions) in virtue of what they bring to them.

What intrigues me about the QS is how closely entwined the ethos and the epistemology seem to be. On a personal level, it just doesn’t make sense to me to think of my own life in terms of what I take to be the prevailing concepts within the Quantified Self. But I can easily see why it would for others and it’s these questions of biographical differentiation that interest me e.g. how does one come to be someone who participates in quantified self practices? How does one come to be someone who participates in QS events? How does one come to be someone who engages in the kinds of practices I was describing in terms of ‘qualitative self-tracking’?

This is why I think the distinction draw by Margaret Archer between different modes of reflexivity is so important to understanding this. My hunch is that the QS community is filled with autonomous reflexives. In a later post, I’ll map out my reasons for thinking this and explain the concepts I’m using properly. But my broader claim is that there’s often a contingent complementarity between particular styles of internal life and particular practices of self-tracking. I’d like to understand this at an empirical level much more than I do and I think doing so would help illuminate at a theoretical level a lot of issues about the relationship between personal reflexivity and technology which interest me.

Perhaps this is all a long winded way of saying that I think the kinds of information that a person comes to think of as salient to their selves is a very interesting issue. So I think numbers are important to people whose self-tracking practices revolve around quantifiable data and my inclination as a biographically orientated sociologist is to ask how did this come to be so? Addressing this question properly entails consideration of structure, agency, culture and the relationships between them. This is far too big a question to address in a blog post but I can see the outline of a potential paper beginning to take shape.

The idea of “qualitative self-tracking” is one that I’ve mentioned on my blog before. It’s a term in which I think but it’s also one that I’m aware of being unclear about exactly what I mean by it. Searching google shows a complete absence of material relating to it – returning only three hits for the exact phrase, all for the same document, which makes reference to “qualitative and quantitative self-tracking data” as opposed to the specific sense in which I’m suggesting qualitative self-tracking can be thought of as a distinct type of practice.

There’s a lot more on the notion of the Qualified Self. This is a term that had occurred to me a couple of years ago and I really like it. My point at the time was that the ethos of self-knowledge through numbers does very little for me personally. But I’m intellectually drawn to the Quantified Self because it’s a fascinating example of the intensification of reflexivity in contemporary society.

In talking about the Qualified Self I’m not disputing the complexity of the inferences that people can and do draw about their selves and their lives on the basis of quantitative data. I’m just suggesting a different starting point which might often have similar implications at the level of practice. I also think there’s an inherent tendency towards behaviourism in a lot of the discourse surrounding the Quantified Self. To be clear: I don’t have any objection to quantitative research into human behaviour (in fact I’d find such an objection absurd) but I do see it as a form of abstraction that is methodologically unavoidable in addressing certain kinds of question and/or to work at a certain level of scope. But what ultimately concerns me are the qualities of things – this is something that’s often associated with description and narrative but I’d argue causality, in the sense of what lies beyond observable regularities, necessitates invocation of qualities. Why does X do Y under condition Z? I see how it’s possible to reject the assumptions underlying the question but I don’t see how it’s possible to address such a question without a concern for the qualities of X, Y and Z.

So rather crudely here’s an attempt at a definition of qualitative self-tracking: using mobile technology to recurrently record qualities of experience or environment, as well as reflections upon them, with the intention of archiving aspects of personal life that would otherwise be lost, in a way susceptible to future review and revision of concerns, commitments and practices in light of such a review. So obviously things like personal journals would fall into this category. Quantitative self-tracking pre-existed the Quantified Self, as well as the novel practices that began to diffuse and prompted the elaboration of the QS. But I think qualitative self-tracking goes back much further. It’s the continuities that interest me here and how examination of what is similar can help us better understand what is different about our present circumstances.

While I use the term ‘mobile’ above in a rather generic sense, it’s nonetheless the case that smart phones facilitate greater opportunities for qualified self-tracking. For instance iDoneThis, though designed as an enterprise tool, has been something I’ve increasingly enjoyed using in the last week. Every day it sends you an e-mail at a defined time asking, perhaps unsurprisingly, “what did you do today?” – to which the response is to e-mail back and say “I done this …. “. It’s an incredibly quick process, automatically formatting each line of the e-mail into a separate entry. These are then indexed to the day in question and marked on a calendar which can be (re)viewed later:

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In a little under a week of using this, though not on every day, I’ve already been struck by the variability with which I respond to it. Some days I’ve immediately been able to say “I did a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h” etc. On other days, it’s necessitated that I deliberate about what exactly I did do that day. I find this very interesting as an example of a socio-technical system inculcating a deeper degree of personal reflexivity about how you’ve spent your day. Some days, I felt I did a lot but then realised upon reflection that I hadn’t done a great deal. Other days, I thought I hadn’t done much but then realised I had actually accomplished rather a lot.

Goalstreaks is a ‘habit tracker’ which may seem an odd choice to include in a post about the qualified self. It’s designed to keep track of the number of days in which you have taken action towards a goal. The idea is that this produces a goalstreak which, as it becomes longer, feels progressively more jarring to break. I’d argue it’s qualitative, at least in the particular sense in which I’m using the term, as a result of the distinction it draws between goals and action. The idea is to define a medium term outcome (e.g. write a book) and then specify a particular daily task which contributes substantively towards achieving that goal. In this sense, it links what the social theorist Harmut Rosa describes as everyday and biographical time horizons – drawing out connections between day-to-day routine and the unfolding of your life in the longer term, with the intention of progressively reshaping the former so that it contributes towards the shaping of the latter. This is why I think meaning is integral to the process – it tracks but it does so in a way that tracks the quality of the action vis-a-vis personal concerns. The normativity is built into how you use the app rather than being something that only factors in when you interpret the data (in fact the scope for treating goalstreaks as data is quite limited I think, over and above modulating your plans because certain goals you’ve aimed for progressively come to seem as if they might be unsustainable).

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Hopefully this has given some sense of what I mean by ‘qualitative self-tracking’. As I said at the start of the post, it’s a term I use in thinking about my own life, as opposed to one I’m necessarily serious about as a proposed concept for sociological inquiry. But this is my starting point for investigating personal reflexivity and digital technology. So it seemed a good idea to try and clarify, at least for myself, what I actually mean when I use the phrase.

This post on Org Theory, which makes reference to a superb New Yorker article about the Fitbit, nicely captures an ambivalence about self-tracking which I share:

In fact, there is a whole Quantified Self movement, complete with conferences and meet-up groups. One obvious take on this is that we’re all becoming perfect neoliberal subjects, rational, entrepreneurial and self-disciplined.

For me, though, what is fun and appealing as a choice — and I do think it’s a choice — becomes repellent and dehumanizing when someone pushes it on me. So while I’ll happily track my work hours and tally my steps just because I like to — and yes, I realize that’s kind of weird – I hate the idea of judging tenure cases based on points for various kinds of publications, and am uneasy with UPS’s use of data to ding drivers who back up too frequently.

It’s possible that I’m being inconsistent here. But really, I think it’s authority I have the problem with, not quantification.


I’m theoretically resistant to attempts to reduce self-tracking to neoliberal governmentality. Partly this is because I’m increasingly unsure what this actually means beyond saying that the technology socialises people into forms of self-management conducive to the demands of the socio-economic system – sounds weirdly functionalist when you rephrase it like this, no? I’m also aware of the role self-monitoring plays in my own life, using apps like Goalstreaks, iDoneThis, Day One Journal and my Nike Fuel Band. Though with the exception of the latter there’s a predominately qualitative aspect to this practice, even if Goalstreaks is superficially a matter of counting.

This obviously constitutes a form of self-work. What I object to is the fundamentally crypto-functionalist interpretation of this self-work that I increasingly see the notion of governmentality as entailing. However the widespread diffusion of digital self-tracking practices – I use the qualifier ‘digital’ because self-tracking practices are obviously not new – throughout the populace clearly has political, social and cultural implications which it would be hard to make sense of adequately without considering the power relationships contributing to them and ensuing from them.

This is why I’m ambivalent about self-tracking. Like the author of the Org Theory post quoted above, it’s authority I have the problem with, not quantification (or tracking). But when you consider the trajectory of self-tracking (and gamification for that matter) it looks likely to become increasingly difficult to separate one from the other. I’m particularly interested in how self-tracking might be introduced in workplaces, in the form of socio-technical systems of (pseudo)-participatory tracking and ranking, with the intention of mobilising ‘discretionary effort’:

Discretionary effort is the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, but above and beyond the minimum required. Many organizations manage performance in such a way that motivates employees to do only enough to get by and avoid getting in trouble (negative reinforcement). Typically, these organizations manage by exception, providing consequences for worker’s performance only when it falls below the standard or minimum required. This approach gets immediate results, but just enough behavior to stop the threats and the potential for other negative consequences in the near future. It suppresses discretionary effort because there’s nothing in it for people to do more than the minimum required.


In this sense, it’s easy to see the appeal of self-tracking as technologies of motivation that can be deployed in the workplace. I’m (slowly) working my way through some of the literature on digital labour and it’s proving useful to begin to think through the implications of this.


Theorising Personal Medical Devices: New Perspectives

18th-19th September 2014
Post-doctoral Suite, 16 Mill Lane, University of Cambridge, Cambridge

Fuelled by the accelerating pace of technological development and a general shift to personalised, patient-led medicine alongside the growing Quantified Self and Big Data movements, the emerging field of personal medical devices is one which is advancing rapidly across multiple domains and disciplines – so rapidly that conceptual and empirical understandings of personal medical devices, and their clinical, social and philosophical implications, often lag behind new developments and interventions. Personal medical devices – devices that are attached to, worn by, interacted with, or carried by individuals for the purposes of generating biomedical data and/or carrying out medical interventions with/on the person concerned – have become increasingly significant in clinical and extra-clinical contexts owing to a range of factors including the growth of multimorbidity and chronic disease in ageing populations and the increasing sophistication and miniaturisation of personal devices themselves.

The aim of this symposium is to consider recent theoretical developments in the humanities and social sciences in relation to personal medical devices, and to address important gaps in understanding such as the differences between wearable and non-wearable devices, the ontological implications of personal devices for concepts of the body, the self, and technology, and the extent to which such questions may arise with particular force owing to ‘new’ technologies.

The symposium will take place at the University of Cambridge over two days, with the first day consisting of papers and keynote presentations, and with the second day consisting of further papers and a concluding panel of invited discussants from a range of backgrounds including computing science, clinical medicine, technology, and philosophy.

Keynote speakers:
Dr. Alex Faulkner, University of Sussex
Dr. Steve Matthewman, University of Auckland
Dr. Nick Fox, University of Sheffield
The symposium will combine invited and submitted papers from established and emerging scholars to consider how recent theoretical literature can shed light on current debates surrounding personal medical devices these and other important issues. Some of the questions that papers may address include:
How ‘personal’ are personal medical devices?
How new are ‘new’ medical technologies?
What are the implications of personal medical devices for enduring philosophical dualities such as mind/body and self/society?
What are the implications of personal medical devices for understandings of illness, medicine, and technology?
How can the interaction of diverse theoretical perspectives drive new conceptual understandings of personal medical devices?
We welcome submissions of papers that address these and other questions that relate to the use of personal medical devices. Paper proposals should consist of:
* a paper title
* authors/co-authors
* a short abstract of fewer than 300 characters
* a long abstract of fewer than 250 words.

Please submit papers by Monday 14th July 2014 in either Word or PDF format to Conor Farrington (cjtf2@medschl.cam.ac.uk ) or Rebecca Lynch (rl476@medschl.cam.ac.uk ).

Submissions from both early career and more established researchers are welcome, with a small number of the presentation slots reserved for early-career researchers (i.e. doctoral students or researchers in their first post-doctoral position). Thanks to Wellcome Trust funding we are also able to offer a limited amount of funding towards travel costs and cost of attendance for three early career presenters. Please specify if you would like to be considered for this.

There will be a small charge of £15 for attendance over the two days of the symposium. This covers refreshments and lunches over both days and is payable on registration.

Full-length versions of accepted presentations will be pre-circulated to a number of discussants who will introduce the papers and chair subsequent discussion. In addition to paper proposals, we also invite applications from individuals who wish to be considered as discussants, with a limited amount of funding available for two early-career discussants – again, please specify if you wish to be considered for this funding.

Discussant proposals should consist of:
* a CV and brief autobiography
* a general description of areas of research expertise
* a description of specific areas of interest with regard to personal medical devices/relevant bodies of theoretical work

Please contact Conor Farrington (cjtf2@medschl.cam.ac.uk), Rebecca Lynch (rl476@medschl.cam.ac.uk ), or Simon Cohn (Simon.Cohn@lshtm.ac.uk) if you would like further details of the event.

The next meeting of the Quantified Self Research Network will take place on the 25th March at the University of Warwick from 1pm to 6pm. It’s an informal seminar to present work in progress and is open to all.

If you would like to contribute then please send a short abstract and bio to mark@markcarrigan.net by February 1st. We use ‘quantified self’ in a broad sense inclusive of self-tracking, wearable computing and digital augmentation

We’re also keen to build on the last seminar and move the discussion forward. Here are some of the key questions which emerged during the last meeting:

What is distinctive about qs?

People have tracked their health data for a long time such as keeping food diaries or measuring their weight. Is qs conceptually different to this or is it merely an automisation and intensification? Does the quantity of the data produced equate to more of the same or a qualitatively distinct phenomenon?

Are there inequalities in qs and self-tracking?

The technologies required for qs are usually quite expensive even for a basic device and would certainly be out of the range of disposable income for many people and…

Are we creating inequalities with the focus of research?

If qsers are a relatively privileged group while it may be interesting to understand their practices and development of individual and group identities there are other people who cannot afford these practices, are uninterested or simply unaware of them.

What about gender?

The QS community seems to have more men than women as active participants. What are the reasons for this? If we take the broader notion of qs suggested by some of the presenters then often the more “mundane” or “domestic” approaches to self-tracking are more associated with women? Is there something fundamentally different about these?

How do we identify a ‘non-user’?

Although some of the methods of tracking have been used for a long time some of them are very new and it is currently unclear what kind of uptake they will have. We fairly easily identify a user (agreeing on a definition may be more complex) it is more difficult to identify a non-user. Are they people who do not practice qs or use the devices because they do not have access to them, they are not aware of them or they simply do not care? Is it right to define people as non-users of a fairly niche activity often engaged in by relatively privileged people? But with the amount of data which is generated about us (often without us knowing) are we not all quantified whether we like it or not?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM (BST)
Leeds, United Kingdom

At this inaugural event there will be presentations from researchers who have been exploring quantified self or self-tracking either empirically or theoretically which will stimulate discussion around the potential and implications for future developments. We hope that this event will stimulate discussion and collaboration among attendees and further afield. This is a great opporunity to be involved in the development of an emerging academic area and to connect with others. Below is a short summary of the proposed interests of the network. This is, however, intended to be an open forum in which a collective vision for the future of the network can be produced.

In the last few years there has been a significant increase in public and academic interest in the use of devices or techniques for the accumulation, aggregation and analysis of personal data. Apps for mobile phones such asTrack My Run and body tracking devices such as JawboneFitbit and Nike’s Fuelband have perhaps garnered the widest attention with their ability to passively collect data on everyday activities which can then be analysed and shared with others. There is, however, more to quantified self than the mainstream media picture of obsessive “techies”. Many people engaged in “life logging” collate data on mood and experiences often without a direct quantitative element. While a relatively formalised arm of the quantified self movement has formed, through the Quantified Self group based in San Francisco, not everyone involved in quantified self activities is affiliated with Quantified Self. This formalised movement, as well as the broader cluster of practices and orientations which are coalescing within and beyond it, point to  commercial and political connections which have yet to be fully explored.

Register here –> http://www.eventbrite.com/event/8189491991/efblike

This post is a very tentative first step towards something which I hope others would share my enthusiasm for. I first encountered Quantified Self via Caspar Addyman who I worked with on Your Brain on Drugs. I had to drop out of the project before we finished the Boozerlyzer but it was great to see Caspar subsequently presenting this work at Quantified Self. This led me to read more about both Quantified Self and quantified self, distinguishing the two, as Whitney Erin Boesel convincingly argues we should:

As I so often remind people, there’s a lot more to self-tracking than just Quantified Self; these days, there’s a lot more to “quantified self” (lowercase) than just Quantified Self (title case), too[i]. One thing that seems to get lost in all this is that, while Quantified Self may be at the forefront of some new methods of self-tracking, it did not initiate the growing popular interest in self-tracking; rather, Quantified Self came to exist because people were already self-tracking, and some of those people were interested in discussing their self-tracking experiences with others. While Quantified Self does undoubtedly help spread interest in self-tracking (just as increasing interest in self-tracking helps drive the growth of Quantified Self), I think the group’s more significant cultural impact has been to make the very concept of self-tracking more visible—and in so doing, to make tracking-in-general more visible. It is this last function, of making more visible a particularly disconcerting thing that usually fades into the background (e.g. being tracked by others), that I think is at the heart of some people’s deep discomfort when I say “Quantified Self” out loud.

Yet, in losing track of the distinctions between Quantified Self (title case) and “quantified self,” or between Quantified Self and self-tracking generally, we also lose track of what I increasingly believe is most noteworthy about Quantified Self: its reflexivity. “QSers” don’t just self-track; they also interrogate the experiences, methods, and meanings of their self-tracking practices, and of self-tracking practices generally. Over the last two years, I’ve watched reflexive engagement with self-tracking become an increasingly important part of Quantified Self culture (which is something I find very exciting). In fact, I argue that Quantified Self’s most central object of concern has slowly shifted from the tools people use to track, to the data those tools and other self-tracking practices generate, to self-tracking practices as meaningful ends onto themselves, to developing “reflective capacities” not just through self-tracking practices, but in regard to self-tracking practices. Whether or not one sees Quantified Self as a harbinger of Data Doom, the group is also working to ask questions and to develop practices that could help to resist the very doom that the words “quantified self” sometimes seem to signify.


Since then it’s come to occupy my thinking in a number of ways, as I’ve become increasingly preoccupied by my own self-tracking while also being frustrated and fascinated by the way it’s covered in the media. There are a few particular ways in which this interests me:

  1. The thorough engagement with questions of philosophical anthropology which still seems to be far less central than the subject matter would suggest
  2. How particular answers to these questions work, implicitly or otherwise, to animate the framing of self-tracking and debates surrounding it (particularly in the media)
  3. The emergence of Quantified Self as an undeniable movement of some sort
  4. How the hyper-reflexivity identified by Whitney Erin Boesel should be understood sociologically (this is where my PhD leads directly into this research topic)
  5. The political economy of self-tracking and the ethical, theoretical, legislative and political issues it raises
  6. How to square the meta-theoretical circle between seeing this as a disciplinary technology and an emancipatory tool for self disciplining.
  7. The continuities and discontinuities between digital self-tracking and older technologies of the self

I hasten to add that these are just my interests and I’m sure others would disagree with my framing and/or suggest further topics. In a really insightful article, which is worth reading in full, Deborah Lupton offers an overview of the rise of this self-tracking technology:

The advent of digital technologies able to assist in the collecting, measuring, computation and display of these data has been vitally important in promoting the cause of the self-tracking movement. While people have been able to monitor and measure aspects of their bodies and selves using non-digital technologies for centuries, mobile digital devices connected to the internet have facilitated the ever more detailed measurement and monitoring of the body and everyday life in real time and the analysis, presentation and sharing of these data.

These technologies include not only digital cameras, smartphones and tablet computers, but also wearable wristbands, headbands or patches with digital technologies embedded in their fabric able to measure bodily functions or movement and upload data wirelessly. Tiny sensors can also be incorporated into everyday items such as toothbrushes, pyjamas or watering cans to measure such activities. Blood pressure cuffs and body weight scales can be purchased that connect wirelessly to apps. Global positioning devices and accelerometers in mobile devices provide spatial location and quantify movement. Apps that regularly ask users to document their mood can monitor affective states. There seems hardly a limit to the ways in which one’s daily activities can be monitored, measured and quantified. Some committed self-trackers even regularly send stool and blood samples for analysis and use commercially available genetic tests as part of their efforts to construct a detailed map of their bodily functions and wellbeing.


What I’m proposing is an informal and interdisciplinary research network to focus on Quantified Self, quantified self and broader issues of self-tracking (and gamification). An initial event could take the form of a papers session later this year, allowing those who are currently or are seeking to do work in this area to present to  a room full of people with similar interests. If this idea is something you’re interested in then please get in touch. I’m open to any and all suggestions about how to proceed.