Quantified self

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Some people present their quantified self methods and results at meetups and conferences on this topic

Quantified self, also known as lifelogging, is a specific movement by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly from Wired magazine, which began in 2007 and tries to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person's daily life. People collect data in terms of food consumed, quality of surrounding air, mood, skin conductance as a proxy for arousal, pulse oximetry for blood oxygen level, and performance, whether mental or physical. Wolf has described quantified self is "self-knowledge through self-tracking with technology".[1]

People choose to wear self-monitoring and self-sensing sensors (e.g. EEG, ECG) and wearable computing to collect data. Among the specific biometrics one can track are insulin and cortisol levels,[citation needed] sequence DNA, and the microbial cells which inhabit one's body.[citation needed]

Other terms for using self-tracking data to improve daily functioning[2] are self-tracking, auto-analytics, body hacking, self-quantifying, self-surveillance, and personal informatics.[3][4][5][6]


According to Riphagen et al.[citation needed], the history of the quantimetric self-tracking using wearable computers began in the 1970s:

"The history of self-tracking using wearable sensors in combination with wearable computing and wireless communication already exists for many years, and also appeared, in the form of sousveillance back in the 1970s [13, 12]"[7]

Quantimetric self-sensing was proposed for the use of wearable computers to automatically sense and measure exercise and dietary intake in 2002:

"Sensors that measure biological signals, ... a personal data recorder that records ... Lifelong videocapture together with blood-sugar levels, ... correlate blood-sugar levels with activities such as eating, by capturing a food record of intake."[8]

(See also,.[9])

The logo of Quantified Self Labs, a company founded by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly, which holds conferences and other events

The “quantified self” or “self-tracking” are contemporary labels. They reflect the broader trend of the progressions for organization and meaning-making in human history; there has been a use of self-taken measurements and data collection that attempted the same goals that the quantified movement has.[10] Scientisation plays a major role in legitimizing self-knowledge through self-tracking. As early as 2001, media artists such as Ellie Harrison and Alberto Frigo extensively pioneered the concept, proposing a new direction of labour-intensive self-tracking without using privacy infringing automation.[11][page needed]

The term "quantified self" appears to have been proposed in San Francisco, CA, by Wired Magazine editors Gary Wolf[12] and Kevin Kelly[13] in 2007[14] as "a collaboration of users and tool makers who share an interest in self knowledge through self-tracking." In 2010, Wolf spoke about the movement at TED,[15] and in May 2011, the first international conference was held in Mountain View, California.[16] There are conferences in America and Europe. Gary Wolf said "Almost everything we do generates data." Wolf suggests that companies target advertising or recommend products use data from phones, tablets, computers, other technology, and credit cards. However, using the data they make can give people new ways to deal with medical problems, help sleep patterns, and improve diet.

Philosophers like Michel Foucault are recognized as being a part of the foundations in the ideas of the quantified movement. Foucault and other philosophers focus on the idea of “care of the self,” in which they emphasize the importance of self-knowledge for personal development. Foucault explains that it involves looking inside oneself and emphasizes self-reflection, which is also associated with the quantified self movement, where self-tracking participants can attend “show-and-tell” style conventions to share their experiences with the technology.[10]

Today the global community has over a hundred groups in 34 countries around the world,[17] with the largest groups in San Francisco, New York, London, and Boston having over 1500 members each.


Like any empirical study, the primary method is the collection and analysis of data.[18] In many cases, data are collected automatically using wearable sensors -not limited to, but often worn on the wrist.[19] In other cases, data may be logged manually.

The data are typically analyzed using traditional techniques such as linear regression to establish correlations among the variables under investigation. As in every attempt to understand potentially high-dimensional data, visualization techniques can suggest hypotheses that may be tested more rigorously using formal methods. One simple example of a visualization method is to view the change in some variable – say weight in pounds – over time.

Even though the idea is not new, the technology is. Many people would track what they would eat or how much physical activity they got within a week. Technology has made it easier and simpler to gather and analyze personal data. Since these technologies have become smaller and cheaper to be put in smart phones or tablets, it is easier to take the quantitative methods used in science and business and apply them to the personal sphere.

Narratives constitute a symbiotic relationship with bodies of large data. Therefore, quantified self participants are encouraged to share their experiences of self-tracking at various conferences and meetings.[20]


A major application of quantified self has been in health and wellness improvement.[21][22] Many devices and services help with tracking physical activity, caloric intake, sleep quality, posture, and other factors involved in personal well-being. Corporate wellness programs, for example, will often encourage some form of tracking. Genetic testing and other services have also become popular.

Quantified self is also being used to improve personal or professional productivity,[23] with tools and services being used to help people keep track of what they do during the workday, where they spend their time, and who they interact with.

One other application has been in the field of education, with wearable devices being used in schools so that students can learn more about their own activities and related math and science.[24]

The Nike+ FuelBand is one of the many kinds of wearable devices that people use as "quantified self" tools

Many start-up companies occupy the market right now[when?]. Most of them help track data for some type of health pattern, be it sleep or asthma. However, there are bigger companies such as Nike, Jawbone, and FitBit that occupy some of the space in the market.

A recent movement in quantified self is gamification. There are a wide variety of self-tracking technologies that allow everyday activities to be turned into games by awarding points or monetary value to encourage people to compete with their friends. The success of connected sport is part of the gamification movement. People can pledge a certain amount of real or fake money, or receive awards and trophies.

Many of these self-tracking applications or technologies are compatible with each other and other websites so people can share information with one another.[citation needed] Each technology may integrate with other apps or websites to show a bigger picture of health patterns, goals, and journaling.[25] For example, one may figure out that migraines were more likely to have painful side effects when using a particular migraine drug. Or one can study personal temporal associations between exercise and mood.[25]

The quantified self is also demonstrating to be a major component of “big data science", due to the amount of data that users are collecting on a daily basis. Although these data set streams are not conventional big data, they become interesting sites for data analysis projects, that could potentially be used in medical-related fields to predict health patterns or aide in genomic studies. Examples of studies that have been done using QS data include projects such as the DIYgenomics studies, the Harvard’s Personal Genome Project, and the American Gut microbiome project. [26]

Quantified Baby[edit]

Quantified Baby is a branch of the Quantified Self movement that is concerned with collecting extensive data on a baby's daily activities, and using this data to make inferences about behaviour and health. A number of software and hardware products exist to either assist data collection by the parent or collect data automatically for later analysis. Reactions to "Quantified Baby" are mixed.[27][28]

Parents are often told by health professionals to record daily activities about their babies in the first few months, such as feeding times, sleeping times and nappy changes.[29] This is useful for both the parent (used to maintain a schedule and ensure they remain organised) and for the health professional (to make sure the baby is on target and occasionally to assist in diagnosis). For quantified self, knowledge is power, and knowledge about oneself easily translates as a tool for self-improvement.[30] The aim for many is to use this tracking to ultimately become better parents. Some parents use sleep trackers because they worry about sudden infant death syndrome.[31]

A number of apps exist that have been made for parents wanting to track their baby's daily activities. The most frequently tracked metrics are feeding, sleeping and diaper changes. Mood, activity, medical appointments and milestones are also sometimes covered. Other apps are specifically made for breastfeeding mothers, or those who are pumping their milk to build up a supply for their baby.

Quantified baby, as in quantified self, is associated with a combination of wearable sensors and wearable computing. The synergy of these is related to the concept of the internet of things.[28]

Devices and services[edit]

Notable self-quantification tools are listed below. Numerous other hardware devices and software are available,[32] as a result of advances and cost reductions in sensor technology, mobile connectivity, and battery life.

Activity monitors[edit]

Sleep-specific monitors[edit]

  • SleepBot – a freeware app, for Android and iOS
  • WakeMate – a wristband plus an accompanying app
  • Zeo – a sleep-monitoring headband (company is now defunct)
  • SleepCycle - app for iOS to track sleep

Diet and weight[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gary, Wolf. "QS & The Macroscope". Antephase.com. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Dorminey, Bruce (2012-05-31). "Tic-Toc-Trac: New Watch Gadget Measures Time Perception For The Self-Quantifying". Forbes. 
  3. ^ Wilson, H. James (September 2012). "You, By the Numbers". Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 2015-08-18. 
  4. ^ "Adventures in Self-Surveillance, aka The Quantified Self, aka Extreme Navel-Gazing". Forbes. April 7, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Counting every moment". The Economist. Mar 3, 2012. 
  6. ^ Wolfram, Stephen. "The Personal Analytics of My Life". blog.stephenwolfram.com. Stephen Wolfram. Retrieved 2016-12-16. 
  8. ^ US Patent application 20020198685
  9. ^ Photographic images from video using quantimetric processing (PDF). ACM Multimedia. Association for Computing Machinery. 2002. 
  10. ^ a b Swan, Melanie (June 2013). "The Quantified Self: Fundamental Disruption in Big Data Science and Biological Discovery". Big Data. 1 (2). 
  11. ^ Villarroel, Morris; Frigo, Alberto (2017). Self trackers: Eight Personal Tales of Journeys in Life-logging. CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1545316283. 
  12. ^ Singer, Emily. "The Measured Life". MIT. Retrieved 2011-07-05. 
  13. ^ Wolf, Gary. "Quantified Self". Gary Wolf. Archived from the original (blog) on 2012-03-26. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  14. ^ Gary Wolf (2007). "Quantified Self Blog, oldest entries". quantifiedself.com. Gary Wolf. Archived from the original on 2012-03-26. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  15. ^ Wolf, Gary. "The quantified self". TED (conference). Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  16. ^ "Invasion of the body hackers". Financial Times. 2011-06-10. Archived from the original on 2012-03-26. 
  17. ^ "Quantified Self Meetups - Meetup". 
  18. ^ Hesse, Monica (September 9, 2008). "Bytes of Life". Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  19. ^ Stinson, Ben. "How wearables became the key tech trend of 2014". TechRadar. Retrieved 4 June 2014. 
  20. ^ Hayles, Katherine (2007). "Narrative and Database: Natural Symbionts". PMLA. 122 (5). 
  21. ^ "The Rise of the 'Quantified Self' in Health Care". The Wall Street Journal. 
  22. ^ "Edelman - Conversations - The Quantified Self and Corporate Wellness". 22 February 2013. 
  23. ^ "When IoE Gets Personal: The Quantified Self Movement!". 
  24. ^ Lee, Victor R (1 January 2013). "The Quantified Self (QS) movement and some emerging opportunities for the educational technology field". 53 (6). 
  25. ^ a b Blaauw; et al. (2016). "Let's get Physiqual - an intuitive and generic method to combine sensor technology with ecological momentary assessments". Journal of Biomedical Informatics. 63: 141–149. doi:10.1016/j.jbi.2016.08.001. PMID 27498066. 
  26. ^ Swan, Melanie (June 2013). "THE QUANTIFIED SELF: Fundamental Disruption in Big Data Science and Biological Discovery". Big Data. 1 (2). 
  27. ^ Heussner, Ki Mae (11 July 2013). "The quantified baby: Do parents really need infant-ready sensor tech?". GigaOM. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  28. ^ a b Higginbotham, Stacy (18 April 2013). "Podcast: How the internet of things may make parents less worried but more neurotic". GigaOM. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  29. ^ "Baby's Checkup Schedule". 
  30. ^ "The quantified self". 
  31. ^ Brooks, Ross (9 September 2013). "Baby Jumpsuit Reports Nighttime Activity Levels To Anxious Parents Baby Jumpsuit Reports Nighttime Activity Levels To Anxious Parents". PSFK. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  32. ^ "The Guide to Self-Tracking Tools". Quantified Self. Retrieved 2012-03-27. 
  33. ^ O'Hear, Steve. "London-based Thriva offers a home finger-prick blood test to quantify your bad self | TechCrunch". Retrieved 2017-07-18.