Getting Out of the Clouds: What the Quantified Self Community and Anthropologists have in Common
Dawn Nafus, Intel Labs
Thursday 15th October 2015, 3.30 – 5.00pm
Location: County South D72, Lancaster University
This talk will examine practices of enumeration within the Quantified Self (QS) community. Quantified Self is a group of people who keep track of their bodies in some way, and share what they found with others. In a sense, both anthropologists and QS share the same problem: they are both concerned that contextual, embodied knowledges risk being left by the wayside in the urge to aggregate data across populations.
Recent discussion in the QS community has focused on the possibility of “turning the evidence pyramid on its head.” Members of the community have called for moving away from randomized controlled trials as the only form of knowledge-making, and towards self-experimentation as a form of different, but equally valid scientific evidence-making. This reversal re-introduces situated knowledge in fascinating ways. It opens up questions about how relations between the one and the many might unfold in a data-rich, sensor-rich setting—a setting in which situated knowledges might be valued more than god tricks, and data in one’s hand is not merely on its way to the cloud.
I will explore what this reversal could mean through both my ethnographic research in the QS community, and by unpacking the design process behind Data Sense, a software project which attempted to elaborate, in material form, the ethnomathematical underpinnings of self-tracking data exploration.
Dawn Nafus is a senior research scientist at Intel Labs, where she conducts anthropological research to inspire new products and services. She has published widely on experiences of time, gender and technology, ethnography in industry, and most recently quantification. Her edited volume on Biosensors in Everyday Life will be published in 2016 with MIT Press. She holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge.