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Self Tracking
Venture Labor
Surviving the New Economy

Technologies for Sharing: lessons from Quantified Self about the political economy of platforms

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

Communication, Mediation, and the Expectations of Data: Data Valences Across Health and Wellness Communities

Communication technologies increasingly mediate data exchanges rather than human communication. We propose the term data valences to describe the differences in expectations that people have for data across different social settings. Building on two years of interviews, observations, and participation in the communities of technology designers, clinicians, advocates, and users for emerging mobile data in formal health care and consumer wellness, we observed the tensions among these groups in their varying expectations for data. This article identifies six data valences (self-evidence, actionability, connection, transparency, “truthiness,” and discovery) and demonstrates how they are mediated and how they are distinct across different social domains. Data valences give researchers a tool for examining the discourses around, practices with, and challenges for data as they are mediated across social settings.

Brittany Fiore-Gartland and Gina Neff, “Communication, Mediation, and the Expectations of Data: Data Valences Across Health and Wellness Communities,” International Journal of Communication 9 (2015), 1466–1484 DOI: 1932–8036/20150005.

Materiality: Challenges to Communication Theory

Increasingly, communication researchers are issuing calls for attention to the role materiality plays in communication processes (e.g., Boczkowski, 2004; Boczkowski & Lievrouw, 2008; Leonardi & Barley, 2008; Leonardi, Nardi, & Kallinikos, 2013; Lievrouw, 2013). Resulting in part from the challenges of studying new communication and information technologies, this new focus on materiality offers opportunities for communication researchers to theorize beyond communication through, with, and, in some cases, without a medium to think about the material structures of mediation itself. In this chapter we propose a model for thinking through the communicative roles and functions of the materiality of everyday objects, by using one type of objects, documents, as an extended theoretical example of the importance of materiality for communication.


Neff, Gina, Brittany Fiore-Silfvast and Carrie Sturts Dossick. “Materiality: Challenges to Communication Theory,” International Communication Association Theme Book 2013: Challenging Communication Research. New York: Peter Lang, 2014. Pp 209-224.

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