Natasha Dow Schüll



Under contract with Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

The past decade has seen a great deal of academic and public debate over so-called big data, particularly the ways in which governments and corporations collect information about the behavior of citizens and consumers and how their use of that information might threaten personal identity, liberty, and privacy. The book proposed here at once builds upon and departs from this important literature, addressing a less explored dimension of pervasive computing and the remarkable advance of digital data-gathering techniques: the relationship between an individual self and her personal data.

The monograph will focus on digital self-tracking, a practice in which individuals employ a range of gadgets and software to scrutinize the quanta of their lived experience, embracing numerical metrics and statistical correlation as a route to the good life. A central focus is the “quantified self” movement, in which individuals use digital software to experiment with diet and meditation regimens, monitor drug side effects, correlate hormone levels with mood fluctuations and relationship dynamics, and evaluate semantic content in daily email correspondence for clues to stress.

Based on ethnographic research among the engineers and users of self-tracking technologies, Schüll considers the questions that arise when individuals apply digital tracking technologies and techniques to themselves—taking their own habits, bodies, and moods as objects of scrutiny, analysis, and intervention. What do these new modes of introspection, self-examination, and self-governance reveal about changing cultural values, political contexts, and understandings of the self?