Accepted paper:

The waning of the self in self-tracking


Natasha Schull (New York University)

Paper short abstract:

As self-tracking practices move out of the Quantified Self community into everyday life, designers of mass-market self-tracking products increasingly abandon the ethos of intensive self-attention found QS. What becomes of the self with the automation of self-monitoring tools?

Paper long abstract:

What becomes of the self with the automation of self-monitoring tools? Contemporary self-tracking is regularly associated with the practices of the Quantified Self (QS) community, an international collective of individuals who ascribe—more or less avidly—to the quest for "self-knowledge through numbers." Yet as self-tracking practices have captured the attention of venture capitalists, technology startups, and powerful electronics companies, the significant challenge of user adherence has come to the fore: how to make self-monitoring a habit - rather than a burden - among mainstream consumers? In response to this dilemma, so-called quantreprenuers increasingly embrace the idea that mass-market self-tracking products must abandon the ethos of intensive self-attention found within QS and automate to the greatest extent possible the labor involved in self-monitoring: self-recording must become passive rather than active; self-reflection must become unnecessary rather than essential; and self-regulation must become a function of algorithms rather than intentional action. Designers and marketers of personal data-tracking tools pitch them as digital compasses for everyday life that allow consumers to embrace the project of self-enterprise without undertaking the tedious, nebulous, and anxiety-provoking work of lifestyle management. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with designers and users of emerging wearable technology, this paper explores experiments in "frictionless" tracking and the ways in which they undermine the self-formational, ethical project of the Quantified Self.

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