Global judgements and ideas.

Self tracking and the ‘quantified man’

p.moore at

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Cognitive work is assumed to happen in creative, project-based, self-managed organisational contexts which are more conducive of rhizomatic networks than hierarchical structures (see Karatzogianni and Robinson 2013) and in that light, the role of ‘the manager’ itself has been challenged, so self-management archiving machines seem to provide the answer to this ambivalence. Placing the self as manager, a range of devices have been introduced and represented in the Quantified Self movement. The fourth Quantified Self Europe Conference was held 11th and 12th May 2013 in Amsterdam and included expert talks entitled ‘Tracking my Happiness’, ‘Tracking Relationships’, ‘Stress Tracking’, ‘Habit Tracking’, ‘Meditation and Brain Function’, and even ‘Tracking Puns’. This recent movement is a symptom of hegemonic struggle around ownership of value of work and production as well as the radical potential for new types of solidarity unearthed in creative industries.

As we do not know of what the body is capable in the Spinozan sense, and as management is fully aware, we cannot deduce that creative and cognitive work only takes place in the mind and precarity is the evidence of this. While the precariat can never be a homogeneous class consciousness, rates of precarity in the knowledge and high tech industry are well known. Precarity, despite being a condition of dependency in legal terminology whereby tenancy of one’s own land belongs to someone else, has been reinterpreted in neoliberal practices to involve shrinkages in welfare states, privatisation and flexible ‘reciprocity’ between workers and management (Berlant 2011: 192). Management literature is more than happy to overlook the painful corporeal specifics of precarity in this ‘reciprocal’ relationship, and rather than troubling to find out about, and work to prevent the brutality of the everyday and everynight lives of producers who work in cognitive industries, the literature promotes flexible workers as a privileged elite and even a new creative class (Florida 2004, 2012), with access to the highest standard of survival and pleasure due to self-management freedoms. This starkly contrasts with the ‘dangerous class’ the precariat has the potential to become (Standing 2011). Guru management literature promotes a view of people whose ability to prosper is unrelated to traditional features relating to basic survival in the conditions of capitalism which involve an income and the ability to feed bodies. The precariat cannot apparently then be measured according to conventionally viewed ‘standards of living’, but are missionaries for an emancipated form of living, celebrated by a series of management gurus like Peter Drucker who claimed in 1909  that ‘the best way to predict the future is to create it’.

These management views hold similar sounding perspectives but are ideologically opposed to the autonomist movement where ideas of precarity begin. Franco Berardi (Bifo) explains the overlap in workerist and autonomist overtures with the new management rhetoric by outlining the way that the capitalist regime has appropriated many of the radical possibilities informing these Italian movements (2009). The Potere Operaio’s manifesto involves the refusal of work, but this has been appropriated through a rise in flexibilised work that is claimed to have liberating potentials for all (rather than simply potentials for those who would like it, which actually would better fit a consumerist model); informatization of factories as a way to reduce work has become fractalisation or the fragmenting of time-activities and the separation of cognitive labour from the body leads to a form of subsumption. This counter-attack is part of a cultural counterrevolution that took particular force after the 1977 movement in Italy. An explicit alternative to capitalism must be identified and to some extent we missed our chance during the period following 1977, Bifo notes. Capitalism is very good at re-inventing itself (Bifo 2009: 77) and appropriation of concepts without providing an apparatus of support such as is needed particularly during times of economic crisis and rising unemployment has implications for the exacerbation of corporeal oversight.

So precarity is a life experience with a physical impact, and give rise to management’s worry that ‘affect must be controlled’ (Negri 1999: 87). The corporeal measure of the impact of precarity on bodies is appropriated by devices condoned by the Quantitative Self movement. Managers have taken a growing interest in such tools as daily activity tracking software and other wearable digital recording equipment such as Sensecam, Subcam sensecams, automas, memoto and audio-visual recorders. These products are used for first person perspective digital ethnographies, lifelogging, and self-tracking of both mental and physical activities in conjunction with measures around productivity. This understanding of the utility of such self-archiving devices potentially allow a re-interpretation of radical elements of monism endorsed by the Affective and Corporeal Turns. As Chris Dancy, CEO claims, ‘if you can measure it, someone will, and that somebody should be you’. Mr Dancy, or the ‘Quantified Man’ (Finley 2013a) is hooked up to up to five sensors, all day and night, and uses Google Calendar to track all daily activities (see Image 1). His pulse, skin temperature, and REM sleep are all measured constantly. He has a sensor in his toilet that looks for patterns between sleep and usage.

A range of recent technologies allow people to self-track aspects of life including mood, sleep, and physical activity. An autom, for example, is a personal health lifestyle coach robot designed by Intuitive Automata. The robot gains data about its owner’s eating habits and customises responses based on information gathered over time. A worker can also buy ‘Daily Activity Tracking Software’ for $49 which allows one to work as normal in front of a computer terminal with a software that monitors any interruptions to work and measures any inactivity at the terminal.[i] Tracking thus will help workers with productivity levels and promises to help you ‘take control of your daily work time’. This ‘automated and accurate’ software company also sells activity log, timesheet, timekeeping, daily activity tracking, daily time tracking, organisation, personal productivity, productivity management, time reporting, and overtime calculation tools.

The Citizen Evolutionary Process Organism (C3PO) is a recent initiative whereby employees at the company Citizen in Portland, Oregon, which designs mobile technologies, upload information to a central database about their daily lives including exactly what they eat, any exercise completed, hours slept, and the like. The experiment is designed to identify whether healthier employees are also ‘happier and more productive’ (Finley 2013b) and the ‘ultimate aim is to explicitly show employees how they can improve their work through better personal habits’ (ibid.). Darpa is researching ways to track soldiers’ health. IBM has a tool to identify unhappy employees. Tesco requires warehouse staff to wear armbands that track productivity. Employees receive a score of 100 if tasks are completed on time, and 200 if activities are finished in half the time required, raising obvious questions about health and safety of employees.

So self-tracking software is a recent example of the appropriation of recognition of the inseparability of mind and body, which is an ontological position taken by Baruch Spinoza in the 1600s. His intervention was to deny the dualism of body and mind celebrated in Descartes’s work. Control at work in the information age has taken new forms, but attempts to appropriate the measure of work in this way shifts emphasis from values that can be used to defend workers’ rights to measures of physical and emotional aspects of work that prioritise productivity and under the remit of value added conceptions. Self archiving software has the potential to subsume workers in the new paradigm of invasive measuring techniques, demonstrating increased recognition of the connection between the mind and body in work. Management techniques to subordinate corporeal functions are a form of control at work that goes beyond the control of the self that I have written about elsewhere (Moore and Taylor 2009). Hardt’s provocative essay on affective labour in 1999 claims that ‘in an earlier era, workers learned how to act like machines both inside and outside the factor. Today as general social knowledge becomes ever more a direct force of production, we increasingly think like computers’ (94, 95). Hardt goes further to say ‘interactive and cybernetic machines become a new prosthesis integrated into our bodies and our minds and a lens through which to redefine our bodies and minds themselves’ (95). He references Marx’s General Intellect thesis showing that Marx was interested in the potential that automation can have for eliminating work from people’s everyday lives. The counterargument relevant for the hegemonic struggle is that tracking software could be used to empower and to provide a defence against unpaid overtime and a dimension of this hegemonic struggle. As we do not know the exact capabilities of bodies, the potential for radical and revolutionary change may be imminent. Work in the cognitive industries has long been unpaid and undervalued (Terranova 2000) and perhaps these tools can be seen as a defensive method of self-management if taken in particular contexts. The hegemonic struggle for ownership of this process is underway and the Quantified Self movement is an indication of this.

[i] See Automated & Accurate

Berardi, F. (Bifo) (2009), Precarious Rhapsody (Minor Compositions).

Berlant, L. (2011), Cruel Optimism (Duke University).

Finley, K. (2013a), ‘The Quantified Man: How an Obsolete Tech Guy Rebuilt Himself for the Future’ Wired (02/22/13) Available from: [accessed 03/07/13].

Finley, K. (2013b), ‘What if your boss tracked your sleep, diet, and exercise?’ (18/04/13) Available from: [accessed 05/06/13].

Florida, R. (2012), The Rise of the Creative Class (Basic Books second edition).

Florida, R. (2004), The Rise of the Creative Class (and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life) (Basic Books).

Hardt, M. (1999), ‘Affective Labour’, Boundary 2 26.2, pp. 89 – 100.

Karatzogianni, A. and Robinson, A. (2013), Power, Resistance and Conflict in the Contemporary World (Routledge).

Moore, P., Taylor, P. A. (2009), ‘Exploitation of the Self in Community-based Software Production – Workers’ Freedoms or Firm Foundations?’ Capital & Class 97, pp. 99–120.

Negri, A. (1999), ‘Value and Affect’, Boundary 2 26.2, pp. 77 – 88.

Standing, G. (2011), The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (Bloomsbury Academic).

Terranova, T. (2000), ‘Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy’ Social Text 63, 18 (2), pp. 33 – 58.

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2 comments on “Self tracking and the ‘quantified man’

  1. RB
    January 30, 2014

    ’75 watts is the average output of energy a human can expend in a day. What if we speculate on how that energy can be employed to create many outcomes and products, such as a dance? We have choice in all we do, yet when labour is channelled and when those 75 watts are multiplied by a workforce of 2,000 men and women in an Amazon distribution warehouse, do those 150,000 watts of energy get used to further our humanity and give people meaning in life, or have we merely converted humans into robots?’

  2. Pingback: What We're Reading | Quantified SelfQuantified Self

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