Fellow Cyborgologist Whitney Erin Boesel (@phenatypical
) and I are working on understanding the Quantified Self movement from a theoretical perspective. My presentation at this year’s #TtW2013 is a first attempt at such theorizing.
While self-tracking is becoming increasingly popular, and the term “quantified self” is coming into increasingly broad use, this paper will focus specifically on the “self-knowledge through numbers” group Quantified Self (capitalized). Started in 2007 by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly (both alumni of Wired magazine), the first Quantified Self meeting was a group of people who met at Kelly’s Silicon Valley home to discuss their mutual interest in self-tracking. Quantified Self gained national attention in 2010 following the publication of Wolf’s essay “The Data-Driven Life
,” and is now a rapidly expanding network of “meetup” groups (which are regularly occurring “show and tell” sessions organized through the social networking website Meetup.com) in 78 cities across 30 countries. Although what QSers track (and how they track it) varies widely, the general premise of Quantified Self is that self-tracking empowers individuals by allowing them to become “experts of themselves.” Self-trackers gather at Quantified Self conferences and meetups to share knowledge and experience, to present findings from their experiments, to market self-tracking related devices, and learn about new practices and products that can help their self-track efforts.
In this piece of our project, I look to make sense of the QS movement through an identity prosumption lens. The contemporary era, with pervasive connectivity, participatory culture, and an abundance of user-generated-content (UGC), is characterized by a blurring of production with consumption—or prosumption (Ritzer and Jurgenson 2010). Although the main focus within prosumption studies has been goods, services, and content, I argued in a 2012 article
that these goods, services, and content hold identity meanings for prosumers. Identity prosumption therefore refers to the simultaneous production and consumption of individual and/or collective identity meanings. I argue here that the Quantified Self movement is a form of identity prosumption. Specifically, QSers both produce and consume their own self-tracking data, and in doing so, prosume embodied identity meanings. Moreover, by engaging in the QS community, the group collectively prosumes “self-quantifier” into a viable identity category. I utilize QS accounts and information posted to the Quantified Self website to illustrate the theoretical argument.
Of tangential interest, is the content of the QS identity. Namely, self-quantifiers are highly future oriented, explicitly self-reflexive, and insist on the value of personal experience, individual growth, and granular datum, while simultaneously championing public transparency, community collaboration, and crowd sourcing.
Follow Jenny on twitter @Jup83