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In lifelogging, you find your statistical (and egotistical?) self

People track steps taken, their heart rates, and go to Quantified Self meet-ups. But what do the numbers, and our fascination with them, say about us?

June 03, 2012|By Joanne McNeil, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Last year, Bell spoke at the Morgan Library in New York City about his MyLifeBits project. He called much of the data he tracks a "WORN memory — write once, read never." Many of us, self-identified as lifeloggers or not, can relate. After all, personal data are unavoidable in the world of social media: Foursquare will tell you how many times you have checked in to a particular coffee shop. Twitter counts all of your tweets. Facebook gives you a number of how many friends you have. But should we bother to review these numbers? Do the numbers actually say anything?

Kelly and Wolf founded the Quantified Self the same year that the iPhone was launched. In the five years since then, we have seen a rapid adoption of smartphones, which help facilitate in-depth personal data tracking. Smartphone apps and sensors allow for advanced, constant data collection. It is not much effort to record the meals you ate or miles you walked, if the place you store that data is already in your hands. A device like a FuelBand makes collecting data even easier: The data are collected and synced to your phone nearly automatically.

Self-tracking will only grow more frictionless and invisible. Until a controversy last year, hidden files showed that every iPhone tracked all of its user's location data. Apple explained it was a bug, but transparent, 24-hour GPS monitoring is probably a service many people would opt into. The same data, when gathered by and about ourselves and motivated by sincere curiosity and a desire for self-improvement, feel very different than when collected by Facebook, Google and other corporations and tech companies.

Beyond everyday personal goals and health concerns, though, the point of lifelogging seems sentimental. With increasingly seamless ways to gather daily reports on food, location, mood and activity, lifelogging risks turning into digital hoarding. Without a story or some kind of context, it says nothing more about us than a look in a detailed mirror. And like a reflection, it captures our attention — because it is about us.

calendar@latimes.com

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