Digital Culture and Society Vol. 2, Issue 1/2016 – Quantified Selves and Statistical Bodies

The journal provides a venue for publication of interdisciplinary research, developments in contemporary theory, and methodological innovation in digital media studies. It invites reflection on how culture evolves through the use of digital technology, and how conversely culture influences the development of digital technology itself. The second issue Quantified Selves | Statistical Bodies provides methodological and theoretical reflections on technologically generated knowledge about the body and the socio-cultural practices that are subsumed, discussed, and criticized using the key concept of “quantified selves”.

My contribution is a brief essay identifying design as a valuable research avenue in concern with the quantified body.

Abstract

Self-trackers are a diffuse and diverse group that quantify their lives. From the ordinary to the extraordinary, intimate and vital happenings that occur on (infra)-empirical planes are cast as legible events. Blood pressure, heartbeat rate, testosterone levels, posture, diet, muscle tension, social activity, geographical position. These are now happenings to be intervened upon and rendered as units of measurement and comparable variables. These measurements may give insight to help rebuild a re-cognition of oneself (Catani 2015), or allow a brooding recall of lost moments (Kalina 2012) – this is the manifestation of a quantified body, a body read and a body written. Yet the quantified body is a veneer, it is the outward appearance of control, awareness and care-for-self: we were cynical subjects (Sloterdijk 1987) long before we were quantified bodies. However, self-tracking intrinsically disassociates from the ubiquitous cynical condition. The cynical self-tracker gropes for independence whilst submitting to a life of mediated self-discovery, it is a renunciation of independent vitality so as to act “as if”, to appear to be whilst never being – to fall short of realising difference. It is argued here that the quantified body allocates us all to be designers – reading and writing in culture. And as such, our actions must be critiqued as a symptom of a design practice, where the condition of subjectivity is at the forefront of value-making in taste, style and fashion. How does the cynic self-track? and what is designs worth in the field of new media and digital culture?