Self-trackers: Why Do They Prefer the Spreadsheet to the Sofa?


Session Title:

  • Content, Data and Media

Presentation Title:

  • Self-trackers: Why Do They Prefer the Spreadsheet to the Sofa?




  • My PhD research on data visualization (started under the direction of Anne-Marie Duguet) has led me to the self-tracker community : people who gather, analyze and share their own data. According to their words and numbers (interviews, production analysis…), self-tracking appears as a new practice at the crossroads of technology, digital humanities and art.

    Self-trackers log chosen parameters – reporting on work, sports or sexual achievements, measuring and monitoring mood, food, health or finances – to help, develop or complete a life project. Each tracker works out his own method and his proper goal, be they scientists (Bo Adler from Fujitsu Laboratories of America), artists (Nicholas Feltron) or just practicants.

    The trend is growing daily: community sizes vary from hundreds (Me-trics) to thousands (YFD, Daytum) to billions (Runkeeper) of members depending on the parameters they focus on and the tools they use to monitor them. Smartphones are at the core of self-tracking. Trackers upload and share their data anytime and anywhere using specialized social platforms.

    Being the experiment and the experimenter of their own laboratory their life is, using Gary Wolf words, a « data-driven » every-day exploration. Extracting meaning out of data, sharing and confronting results, a self-trackers’ first will is self-knowledge. They also aspire to a better understanding of mankind (collaborative medical projects…).

    Self-tracking tackles the notion of humanity and society in the digital age. It offers new insights on technological applications and reassesses fundamental topics like language, communication, privacy and property.

    Based on numbers, self-tracking is seen as an alternative – and a better – way than psychoanalysis to reach the self. Trackers mistrust words which they find too limited: they can lead to misunderstandings or lies and avoid communication with others who don’t use them – other humans, animals or plants.

    As an extreme examples of data presence in peoples’ lives, self-tracking brings the question of data place and part: who can have access to personal data, why and what for? It also brings light on a social paradigm shift (suggested by Hal Niedzvieck): the progressive abandonment of the concept of privacy in favor of self-attention.

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