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Living With Data: Personal Data Uses of the Quantified Self

Living With Data: Personal Data Uses of the Quantified Self

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Published by Sara M. Watson
Abstract: Between the internet, social media, sensor-enabled devices, and established industrial transactional systems, we are living in a world with more data about ourselves than ever before. Public discourse has largely focused on the opportunities for firms or the risks to individuals as this data environment expands. These framings do not give individuals enough practical understanding of how data impacts and integrates into their lives. The Quantified Self community is an advanced- user community of people who have begun to explore and experiment with novel uses of personal data. As the Homebrew Computer Club’s hobbyist experimentations paved the way for the personal computing revolution, the Quantified Self community offers a glimpse of what engagement with personal data in our everyday lives might soon look like. Through ethnographically-informed interviews and participant observations, this research explores how self- trackers derive personal meaning from personal data. I present a lifecycle of personal data use: from deciding what to track, through collection, analysis, and future uses. I explain how current barriers to use expose the need for revised policies to support individuals’ personal interest in the use of their data. By analyzing the metaphors individuals use to explain their personal uses of data, I put Quantified Self tracking practices in historical context and illuminate the novel affordances that self-knowledge through data provides. I argue the QS community offers ways of framing and engaging with personal data in our everyday lives that can help society at large begin to understand our roles as data selves in a Big Data world.
Abstract: Between the internet, social media, sensor-enabled devices, and established industrial transactional systems, we are living in a world with more data about ourselves than ever before. Public discourse has largely focused on the opportunities for firms or the risks to individuals as this data environment expands. These framings do not give individuals enough practical understanding of how data impacts and integrates into their lives. The Quantified Self community is an advanced- user community of people who have begun to explore and experiment with novel uses of personal data. As the Homebrew Computer Club’s hobbyist experimentations paved the way for the personal computing revolution, the Quantified Self community offers a glimpse of what engagement with personal data in our everyday lives might soon look like. Through ethnographically-informed interviews and participant observations, this research explores how self- trackers derive personal meaning from personal data. I present a lifecycle of personal data use: from deciding what to track, through collection, analysis, and future uses. I explain how current barriers to use expose the need for revised policies to support individuals’ personal interest in the use of their data. By analyzing the metaphors individuals use to explain their personal uses of data, I put Quantified Self tracking practices in historical context and illuminate the novel affordances that self-knowledge through data provides. I argue the QS community offers ways of framing and engaging with personal data in our everyday lives that can help society at large begin to understand our roles as data selves in a Big Data world.

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Published by: Sara M. Watson on Oct 01, 2013
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08/19/2014

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Living with Data: Personal Data Uses of theQuantified Self 
Sara M. WatsonCandidate Number 562095
 
Keble Collegesaramariewatson@gmail.com
 
22 July 2013
 
 Word Count: 9,974
 
 Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of MSc in Social Scienceof the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford.
 
 
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 ABSTRACT
Between the internet, social media, sensor-enabled devices, and established industrial transactionalsystems, we are living in a world with more data about ourselves than ever before. Public discoursehas largely focused on the opportunities for firms or the risks to individuals as this dataenvironment expands. These framings do not give individuals enough practical understanding of how data impacts and integrates into their lives. The Quantified Self community is an advanced-user community of people who have begun to explore and experiment with novel uses of personaldata. As the Homebrew Computer Club’s hobbyist experimentations paved the way for thepersonal computing revolution, the Quantified Self community offers a glimpse of whatengagement with personal data in our everyday lives might soon look like. Throughethnographically-informed interviews and participant observations, this research explores how self-trackers derive personal meaning from personal data. I present a lifecycle of personal data use: fromdeciding what to track, through collection, analysis, and future uses. I explain how current barriersto use expose the need for revised policies to support individuals’ personal interest in the use of their data. By analyzing the metaphors individuals use to explain their personal uses of data, I putQuantified Self tracking practices in historical context and illuminate the novel affordances thatself-knowledge through data provides. I argue the QS community offers ways of framing andengaging with personal data in our everyday lives that can help society at large begin to understandour roles as data selves in a Big Data world.
KEYWORDS
: personal data, quantified self, self-tracking, use, everyday life, conceptualmetaphors, data lifecycle, data self, Big Data
 
 
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 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I am so grateful to my participants for sharing their stories with me. Joshua Kaufmann and Adriana Lukas planted the seed for this work and invited me into their world. I felt right at home inthe community, thanks to an ethos of collaboration and inclusion fostered by Gary Wolf andErnesto Ramirez. This work would not have been possible without Viktor Mayer-Schönberger’s inspirationand encouragement. I am grateful for his advice, counsel, and mentorship throughout. I am alsothankful for John Battelle’s expert editorial advice and perspective, as well as his willingness to diveback into academia. I look forward to working through more of these questions together in thecoming year. The OII Faculty and my MSc cohort deserve my sincerest thanks for entertaining my incessant talk of the Quantified Self throughout the year. I am also deeply indebted to thedepartment for the intellectual and financial support offered by the OII MSc Scholarship. I amgrateful for Jonathan Zittrain’s mentorship and friendship, in leading me to the OII and helping mefind a new home at the Berkman Center.
 
 Thanks are owed to Buster Benson for his 750 Words webapp. So much of my thinking and drafting was worked out on those pages over the past 51 mornings and 44,751 words. Thanksare also due to Stan James and Diana Kimball for their coincidentally coordinated nudges.
 
I am deeply grateful to my parents and friends who graciously waded through drafts of this work. Last, but certainly not least, I cannot thank my husband enough for his tolerance of my self-tracking experimentations, his honest critique, his patient editorial feedback, and ongoing supportand encouragement.

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