Quantifying Self

Posted: January 17, 2015

Wolf, G. (2010, June). The quantified self. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/gary_wolf_the_quantified_self.

In his 2010 TED talk, Gary Wolf discusses the concept of “Self Quantification.” Wolf asserts that numbers can be used for more than advertising, governance, management, or even searches. Wolf believes that they can also be used by individuals as they  “reflect, learn, remember and want to improve.”

He discusses the growing trend of individuals tracking self-information in the years leading up to his talk, beyond the typical (such as tracking weight on a scale). People began to track things on mobile devices such as food consumption, spending, moods, exercise, and even health issues and treatments (2010, Wolf).

At the time of Wolf’s talk, 1st generation fitness trackers were just beginning to emerge, such as the original Fitbit and Nike’s predecessor to today’s Nike Fuel Band, the Nike+ tracker. Since then, dozens of different health and fitness tracker have come to market, with a much wider array of sensors and data available than ever before. For a few hundred dollars, it is possible to wear a device that reliably tracks motion and exercise, continuous heart rate, electrodermal response (a.k.a. EDA), heart rate variability, skin temperature, GPS location, exercise intensity and duration, and sleep quantity and quality.

According to a 2014 Gartner Report, in 2013 over 73 million wearable devices were sold, and it is forecast that over 91 million wearable devices will be sold in 2016. The technological forces driving these innovative products are the diffusion of mobile devices into the populations, and the exponential improvements in processing speed, data storage, and biometric sensors.

By leveraging these new and emerging wearable devices to self quantify, individuals are able to empower themselves with a more complete understanding of self, allowing them to become more affective in their lives.


Gartner. (year, month). Retrieved from http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2913318 on January 17th, 2015.

Wolf, G. (2010, June). The quantified self. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/gary_wolf_the_quantified_self on January 17th, 2015.


What I find most interesting in this video is that Wolf ‘s discussion of the growing phenomena of self-quantification is really the beginning of what I term “Affective Living.” Affective Living is the juxtaposition of Affective Computing and Ubiquitous Computing. Affective Computing is computing that recognizes, processes, and responds to human affect and emotion, while Ubiquitous Computing is computing anywhere and everywhere. As Affective Living is realized, technology and social forces around an individual will transparently adapt and respond to personal life experience. Affective Living will in turn empower more effective living, allowing individuals to have a greater effect in everything they attempt to accomplish.

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