Media Tracking and the Quantified Self
By Ethan ZuckermanGary Wolf and Kevin Kelly have been documenting an emerging phenomenon they call “the quantified self“. The term refers to a set experiments that people are conducting – primarily on themselves – to understand their own bodies and behavior. In an article for The New York Times Magazine, Wolf details a range of these experiments. One engineer weans himself off coffee and compares his reported levels of concentration with and without caffeine. Others use sensors like the Zeo to track their sleep patterns, or the Fitbit to track physical activity. Some track what they eat and drink, how much they weigh, their emotional states.
Wolf acknowledges that some of the people profiled in the article sound obsessive and notes that people engaged in detailed self-tracking may be “outliers”. And he’s careful to offer testimonies from people who engaged in self-tracking and gave it up, feeling like the data they generated was relentless and remorseless. (As someone who’s had to engage in self-tracking of blood glucose levels as a type 1 diabetic for the past 25 years, “relentless and remorseless” are my words, not Wolf’s.) But he’s clearly a believer that tracking can be a tool for self-discovery, a way of learning what constitutes normal behavior for each of us, not just a tool for moving towards a goal, like increased fitness or better sleep.
The experiment in self-tracking that I’m considering is more about self knowledge than self improvement, though I’m finding it’s hard to separate the two. I’m looking for ways to monitor my personal information flow. I’d like to understand how I get information about the world – through television, the web, radio, email and the people I talk to. The hope is to use myself as a guinea pig, to see what’s possible as far as active and passive monitoring of information flows, in the hope of opening the experiment to a wider population.
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September 13, 2010
Posted by Eric