Quantified Self – control gain or control loss?

Self-trackingWhen we found out about the massive data collection of America’s NSA we were more than alarmed. Truth is, today more and more people collect and share very personal data – voluntarily and frequently. The trend of so-called “Self Tracking” has become popular in the USA and is increasingly spilling over to Europe.

Imagine Rick, a hobby self tracker. Wearing the wrist band has become normal for him. His day starts when his heart rate indicates a light sleep phase, the perfect time to easily wake up. He heads to the bathroom; keeping track of the amount of water and warm water in particular that he used. His scale measures his weight and body fat, directly connecting to the respective application on his smartphone that creates clearly arranged diagrams for him. When ready for breakfast he checks his last night’s sleep – apparently, he did not sleep very well. His first meal of the day begins his exact food tracking of every day. In order to decrease his relative body fat, he is on a special diet at the moment. When leaving the house, Rick starts counting his steps. 10,000 steps are quite a goal, so he decides to skip the first tram station and to walk instead. When reaching university he takes the stairs instead of the elevator – a behaviour that he’s become very used to. After class in the library he uses a special software to track his own productivity and the pages that he has read in a specific amount of time. This way, he knows exactly when it is okay for him to go home and head for a run. Without Runtastic, of course, he wouldn’t have an idea of the progress he is making. At the end of the day he looks at his diagrams satisfied, knowing that he achieved his goals for the day. He is ready for a hopefully better sleep this night.

This short story tells features of today’s reality that almost everyone has gotten in touch with by now. The trend of quanitfying yourself has become more and more common – the launch of the Apple Watch is just another indicator.


  • Behaviours that were very unconscious in the past can be made explicit
  • We can gain more control over our time, body and health
  • It is easier than ever to live a healthy, fit lifestyle
  • It is cheaper than ever to buy the necessary gear
  • Very often, self tracking involves some degree of gamification, it’s fun
  • The link of everyday life and technology is fascinating


  • We lose control over our very personal data
  • We often do not know which application collects which data and what is done with it
  • There might be severe security issues with regards to how your data is stored
  • We don’t know who does and will have access to your data
  • Increased risk of identity theft
  • Tracking ourselves can cause addictive behaviour, our realistic perception of our own bodies etc. might get lost
  • Humans are reduced to numbers

Apart from the listed con’s, risks become very concrete when thinking about who could or might have access to our very personal data in the future. Do you want your health insurance to know you don’t work out enough to maintain a good health status? Do you want your employer to know that you were not really sick the last time you were on sick leave? Do you want a potential burglar to know where you are – and where you are not?

Thinking about this trend of tracking and quantifying everything about oneself leads to many questions. Do the benefits of these technologies outweigh the costs? Do we not give away the last bit of privacy that we had left?



One response to “Quantified Self – control gain or control loss?”

  1. charlottevanroosmalen says :

    The NSA has indeed the possibility to track almost any human being on earth. My opinion is that if you do not have anything to hide, mostly the NSA and other groups will not find it interesting to track you. Besides this it is closely related to other websites and apps everyone uses voluntarily, because via Facebook and especially Twitter anyone can keep track of you. This leads to my statement that if you do not publish personal information it is not interesting to track you for others and besides that it is highly difficult to track you. By not adding personal data, which is unlike stated in this blog not compulsory, it is highly difficult to be tracked in which case potential burglars or others will search for another target. In order to support my statement I have made a list of handy tips in order to make it more difficult to be tracked:

    1) Change you Facebook viewing settings into “only available to friends”
    2) Do not accept everyone as a friend, but only acquaintances. This way you have a better grip on which people know what information about you.
    3) Apps like Runtastic have a live tracking option. If you do not want your whereabouts published do not use this option.
    4) Most apps have the possibility to enter personal data, but it is not compulsory to have your correct name and address, so if you see this as an invasion of your privacy either do not use the app or change your contact details.
    5) Stop posting all your daily activities on social media websites like Twitter. If you do regard your personal status interesting enough for the world to read, do not complain that your privacy is invaded.

    To summarize it is indeed important to know that your personal data is out there, but it is fairly easy to restrict the data online available. Still some information can be retrieved by companies, websites and apps without us knowing, but by starting to think a bit more about posting personal information less information is available on the public domain.

    To come back to the blog I think the quantified self is a control gain, due to the possibilities to track e.g. your exercise time, your sleep cycle, your eating pattern etcetera. The con’s are not dramatic, because if you indeed live healthy your health insurance might lower your monthly bill and if you are not really sick do not complain when your boss finds out.

    To conclude I see mostly the pro’s and the con’s can easily be controlled in my opinion; just watch out what you post online as it is indeed easy to retrieve personal information about anyone.

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