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Thank you Simon Head for reviewing Self-Tracking in the New York Review of Books.
Simon Head. 2018. “Big Brother Goes Digital,” New York Review of Books (24 May).
Quantified Self (QS) is a group that coordinates a global set of in-person meetings for sharing personal experiences and experiments with self-tracking behaviours, moods, and activities. Through participation in US-based QS events and watching online QS presentations from around the globe, we identify a function of ambiguous valuation for supporting sharing communities. Drawing on Stark’s (2011) theory of heterarchy, we argue that the social and technical platforms supporting sharing within the QS community allow for multiple, sometimes conflicting, sets of community and commercial values. Community cohesion benefits from ambiguity over which values set is most important to QS members. Ambiguity is promoted by sharing practices through at least two means, the narrative structure of members’ presentations, and what counts as tracking. By encouraging members to adhere to a three-question outline, the community ensures that multiple values are always present. Thus, it becomes a question of which values this sharing community emphasizes, not which value sets members present, at any given time. By leaving the tools and methods of tracking open − from sophisticated wearables and data analysis to pen-and-paper and storytelling − the community creates space for and embraces self-trackers with a broad spectrum of technological proficiency and interest. QS as a group capitalizes on circulation of knowledge valued somewhat ambiguously to sustain and grow the community, both encouraging and supporting the commercialization of self-tracking technologies while keeping technology developer interests from overwhelming community-building interests. This, we argue, has implications for researchers hoping to understand online communities and the ‘sharing economy’ more generally.
Kristen Barta & Gina Neff. (2015). Technologies for Sharing: lessons from Quantified Self about the political economy of platforms. Information, Communication & Society. DOI:10.1080/1369118X.2015.1118520
People keep track. In the eighteenth century, Benjamin Franklin kept charts of time spent and virtues lived up to. Today, people use technology to self-track: hours slept, steps taken, calories consumed, medications administered. Ninety million wearable sensors were shipped in 2014 to help us gather data about our lives. This book examines how people record, analyze, and reflect on this data, looking at the tools they use and the communities they become part of. Gina Neff and Dawn Nafus describe what happens when people turn their everyday experience—in particular, health and wellness-related experience—into data, and offer an introduction to the essential ideas and key challenges of using these technologies. They consider self-tracking as a social and cultural phenomenon, describing not only the use of data as a kind of mirror of the self but also how this enables people to connect to, and learn from, others.
Neff and Nafus consider what’s at stake: who wants our data and why; the practices of serious self-tracking enthusiasts; the design of commercial self-tracking technology; and how self-tracking can fill gaps in the healthcare system. Today, no one can lead an entirely untracked life. Neff and Nafus show us how to use data in a way that empowers and educates.