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Refracted gaze of the quantified self

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The quantified-self movement advocates the use of measurements obtained from a variety of sensors around them and storing these digitally for further analysis and as a log of their lives. Their aim is to discover patterns in their lives that they have not previously been aware of or they strive to achieve certain goals. Their motto is ’self-knowledge through numbers’. I would like to put the image of oneself created by quantified-self methods into the perspective of the refracted gaze, a term used by Lutz and Collins to describe a hidden curriculum of anthropologists using Polaroid photographs to observe natives as they receive self-knowledge by observing their own portraits. They point out that mirrors and cameras are tools of self-reflection and surveillance as each creates a double of the self, a second figure who can be examined more closely than the original – a double that can also be alienated from the self, taken away, as a photograph can be, to another place. The deconstructed image that is created through the quantified-self experience is supposed to create an objective and impartial picture of the self. Yet, at the same time, the interpretations and visualizations of such data are strongly influenced by the designers of the different apps with which it is tracked and displayed. Not only does the digitalization alienate the action from the experience, but it can be seen as a further step towards an abstraction of ourselves and the opposite of what the quantified-self is supposed to be about, bringing us closer to our bodies.
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Keywords: abstract user; digitisation; embodiment; quantified-self; self-reflection; sentinel

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Planetary Collegium

Publication date: June 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • Ubiquity is an international peer reviewed journal for creative and transdisciplinary practitioners interested in technologies, practices and behaviours that have the potential to radically transform human perspectives on the world. "Ubiquity", the ability to be everywhere at the same time, a potential historically attributed to the occult is now a common feature of the average mobile phone. The title refers explicitly to the advent of ubiquitous computing that has been hastened through the consumption of networked digital devices. The journal anticipates the consequences for design and research in a culture where everyone and everything is connected, and will offer a context for visual artists, designers, scientists and writers to consider how Ubiquity is transforming our relationship with the world.
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