Theses Doctoral

Sensored: The Quantified Self, Self-Tracking, and the Limits of Digital Transparency

Grinberg, Yuliya

The idea that daily life overflows with data has entered our common sense. Digital sensors placed in phones, clothing, or household appliances to track how we walk, how much we sleep, or where we travel have heightened the sense that everything about our lives is rapidly being translated into data. Theorists writing about data overload have largely converged around questions of privacy and agency, focusing on the feelings of impotence produced by large quantities of data that now let corporations effortlessly monitor and regulate people’s lives.
By contrast, I am interested in moments of friction. Scholars point to real issues, but they overstate the efficacy of data gathering and discount the professional dynamics that motivate the proliferation of data. As I evaluate how data discourse operates and builds, I concentrate on the experiences of those involved in the business of self-tracking, and mainly on the work of U.S.-based developers of wearable computing and the technology professionals who participate in the international forum for data enthusiasts called the Quantified Self. As I analyze how digital entrepreneurialism configures notions of data and transforms digital self-monitoring into meaningful work, I examine how the relationship of technology professionals to data opens onto wider debates about the politics of digital representation. Ultimately, by applying an anthropological lens to explore how the practices, beliefs, and views of marketers, engineers, and developers of self-tracking tools shape digital knowledge, this research challenges accounts of data based purely on transparency, anxiety, and fear and reveals just how precarious the control exerted by digital companies and self-monitoring tools really is.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ivy, Marilyn J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 10, 2018