Quantified Self, also known as lifelogging, is an identity phenomenon that has been produced by the emergence of social media (Facebook, Twitter), applications on mobile phones and gadgets using GPS technology and the recognition of the human body to produce information about our daily lives.
We measure what we do and how we do it, the kilometers we walk or walk in any means of locomotion, the calories we eat and burn during exercise, the quality of our sleep, the productivity of our tasks, the time we use to each of our activities, etc.
We can also measure and record (the quality of) our environment: humidity, temperature, radiation level, eg through the Lapka sensor) and we can also keep a visual record of our life (lifelog). We also measure our states and emotions, mood, excitement, oxygen in the blood, pulsations, breathing … and performance, either mental or physical.
Finally, it is a matter of collecting information about our being (self) to measure it, and therefore, to translate it into something tangible, either for the purposes of self-knowledge or to send information to third parties, physical trainers, coaches, doctors, etc.
According to Riphagen et al. (2013) the history of computer-based quantitative auto-tracking began in the 1970s.
Foucault and other philosophers focus on the idea of ”self-care,” in which the importance of self-knowledge for personal development is emphasized. Foucault explains what it means to look within oneself and emphasize self-reflection.
This “self-awareness effort,” as Stephen Wolfram described it, makes him a pioneer in the growing discipline of self-analysis (the practice of voluntarily collecting and analyzing self-improvement data). Athletes have long used statistical analysis to increase their performance.
The quantified self increases our consciousness of everything we do at the same time, often projecting us into a social network. It somehow pushes us to rethink our life in a data-driven new way.
The quantified self in the labor and educational field
Every day more tools and services are developed that are used to help people keep track of what they do during the workday, where they spend their time and with whom they interact. The goal is to help companies better monitor, track and understand the activity (and commitment) of their workers, and thus improve their productivity. These tools are real-time, often anonymous, and usually invisible.
Other applications have been extended to the field of education, with devices being used in schools so that students can learn more about their own activities, in math and in science in general.
An added field in the quantified self is gamification. There are a variety of self-tracking technologies that allow daily activities to be turned into games by awarding points or monetary value to encourage people to compete with their friends. The success of the connected sport is part of the gamification movement.
The mobile as the center of information of the quantified self
The gadgets created to be able to quantify ourselves communicate with our mobile device, this being the center where information about us is stored. In this way, the mobile device is no longer a mere mobile and happens to be the device where we can know our habits.
An important application of the quantified self has occurred in the field of health and improvement of well-being. Many devices and services allow monitoring of physical activity, caloric intake, quality of sleep, posture and other factors related to personal well-being. Even genetic testing has become popular.
Data collection through self-monitoring and self-detection combines sensors (eg, EEG, ECG) and portable computing. Specific biometrics can track insulin and cortisol levels, sequential DNA, and microbial cells that inhabit the body.
There are some studies that show deficiencies in the privacy of some of these applications. Researchers analyzed more than 200 health applications for Android that help people control diabetes. They found that 81 percent of these applications did not have privacy policies available (preferably before a user downloaded the application).
Self-quantification can provide insight into the future of health care, with greater emphasis on monitoring to prevent disease, prolong life, and reduce (presumably) medical costs. It somehow increases the potential of people to get involved in (control) their own health and modify their behaviors to optimize the duration and quality of life.
Quantified baby is an extension of the quantified self that appears when parents (usually) take care of gathering extensive data about their baby’s daily activities, to make inferences about their behavior and health. A wide variety of hardware and software products have been developed and put on the market to assist in the collection of data by parents or even to collect data automatically. The most frequent parameters are feeding, sleep and changes of diapers.
Big Data and “Dataism”
The quantified self is also proving to be an important component of “Big Data Science” or Big Data, because of the amount of data users are collecting daily, interesting for analytical projects that can be used in medicine to predict Patterns of health or aid in genomic studies. DIYgenomics studies, the Harvard Personal Genome Project, and the Human Microbiome Project can be examples.
From this perspective another definition of the quantified ego emerges: a system of knowledge that remains flexible in its objectives and can be used as a resource for epistemological research and in the formation of a data-forming paradigm. Dataism, according to Van Dijck (2004), is an approach that gives data an agent role in the formation of knowledge.
Dataism argues that the univers is reduced to an incessant flow of data, and that “the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing.” For dataism, there is no clear boundary between the human brain and a computer.
This new generation of self-experimentation in the quantified self allows individuals to heal, fix, optimize, manipulate, and investigate (satisfy their curiosity) the data and information themselves by new avenues that were previously not possible, and Can provide meaningful solutions to individual and group problems.
If you want to know a little bit more…
The Economist. Technology Quarterly: Q1 2012. The quantified self. Counting every moment. Technology and health: Measuring your everyday activities can help improve your quality of life, according to aficionados of “self-tracking” Mar 3rd 2012.
Forbes. May 31, 2012 .Tic-Toc-Trac: New Watch Gadget Measures Time Perception For The Self-Quantifying.
Riphagen, M. et al. (2013) Learning tomorrow: visualizing student and staff’s daily activities and reflect on it. ICERIE 2013. 6th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation. Seville, Spain. 18-20 November, 2013.
Bersin, J. (2013) The Beginner’s Guide to Quantified Self (Plus, a List of the Best Personal Data Tools Out There). Posted April 22, 2013. Quantified Self: Meet the Quantified Employee.
Rettner, R. Health Apps May Share Your Data, Study Finds. March 8, 2016.
NHS (2015). Technology enabled care services. NHS commissioning assembly. https://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/qual-clin-lead/tecs/
Philos. Technol. (2017) 30:93–121. Self-Tracking for Health and the Quantified Self: Re-Articulating Autonomy, Solidarity, and Authenticity in an Age of Personalized Healthcare. Tamar Sharon1.
Ruckenstein, M. y Pantzar, M. (2015) Beyond the Quantified Self: Thematic exploration of a dataistic paradigm. New Media & Society.
One website listing of quantified tracking devices is maintained by the Quantified Self community:
Swan, M. (2012) Sensor Mania! The Internet of Things, Wearable Computing, Objective Metrics, and the Quantified Self 2.0. J. Sens. Actuator New. 2012, 1, 217-253;
Van Dijck, J. (2014) Datafication, dataism and dataveillance: Big Data between scientific paradigm and ideology. Surveillance & Society 12(2): 197–208.