Accepted paper:

From Quantified to Curious Self: Questioning Underlying Assumptions of Activity Tracking


Nanna Gorm (IT University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

Assumptions of activity tracking are shaped by research and focus on the Quantified Self movement. This paper suggests the notion of the ‘Curious Self’ as a better fitting concept for everyday uses of activity tracking, building on a longitudinal, qualitative study of 25 activity-tracking users.

Paper long abstract:

Research shows that activity tracking has a "dirty secret": devices are often left behind within 6 months of purchase (Hammond, 2014). This paper suggests that this might, at least in part, be due to design and research efforts that have been shaped by a focus on the Quantified Self (QS) movement, which might not readily fit the more mundane, everyday use of activity tracking devices (Rooksby, Rost, & Chalmers, 2014). This paper uncovers underlying assumptions of activity tracking, and shows how these assumptions have lead to particular design solutions and particular uses and abuses by users who try to engage with these devices (Bijker & Law, 1992).

Based on a longitudinal, qualitative and photo-based study of 25 users of activity trackers this paper investigates the practices of activity tracking in everyday life as these develop over weeks and months. Findings from this study show how everyday activity tracking is not necessarily continuous, diligent and detail oriented, such as is often suggested by the devices and research on the QS community. One assumption of activity tracking seems to be that users will only benefit from tracking when this is done continuously over longer periods of time, which this paper shows is not necessarily the case. I then go on to suggest the concept of the 'Curious Self' as a better fitting concept of how activity tracking often plays out in the everyday life. This has consequences for the role we attribute to activity-tracking devices.

panel T102
Everyday analytics: The politics and practices of self-monitoring