‘Quantified Self’ has been a common term in the media lately. And what happens often with hypes, is that terminology will be misused and put into the wrong context. I have noticed that when it comes to registering personal data, some people will immediately – wrongly – make associations with Orwellian situations. Therefore, I feel it is a good idea to properly redefine the term. What exactly is QS, and above all, what isn’t it?
Quantified Self is the gathering of personal data for and by you. You want to know something about yourself or your living conditions and because of that you start collecting data; how many kilometers do you run in 25 minutes, how long do you sleep and how do you feel the following morning, or where and with whom are you every day at 8:36 pm. It is a functionally ‘selfish’ activity, which is the result of a personal motivation. ‘Me and my data’, that is the point with Quantified Self
Figure inspired on Ethan Zuckerman’s blog.
Quantified Self can provide added value, when you start sharing your data online and other self-trackers share their data as well. All this combined data provide an enormous amount of extra information for you, which gives Quantified Self an extra dimension.
An example for this is Patients like me. This is an online community, in which patients can share their experiences with treatments, symptoms and side-effects. Therefore, you could call this Quantified Us.
For both Quantified Self as Quantified Us it counts that the person who collects the data owns the data and he or she decides if he wants to share the data. Privacy is generally not a big issue, unless it is unclear who has access to the data. Basically, there is no coordinating entity which keeps an eye on you. So, no ‘Big Brother is watching you’, but a lot more ‘know thyself’.
It’s a different story when someone tells you “Here you go, here’s a sensor, I want you to go measure this, so I can see how YOU are doing”. In that case, we are not talking about Quantified Self, but let’s say Quantified Other. This is a form of surveillance that’s better known as telemonitoring: someone else is watching you from some distance to see if you are doing okay. In this case, the caregiver or researcher wants to collect the data, instead of you yourself. That is the difference between Quantified Self/Us and Quantified Other.
Finally, there is citizen science, where citizens collect data for science. For example, Lifelines, a large-scale population study in the Northern part of the Netherlands. In this studies the researchers, instead of the participants, are looking to collect data, similar to how it works with Quantified Other. The crucial question you should ask yourself to figure out if it is in fact Quantified Self is: “Who wants to learn something?”. When the answer is ‘I’, you are good.
By Martijn de Groot