The Quantified Self (Rebroadcast)

© Chad Hagen, used by permission

February 28, 2016

A few years ago, the notion of the "quantified self" was the domain of a relatively small group of hackers, engineers, and computer enthusiasts. Now, under its many names—lifelogging, self-tracking, fitness monitoring—it's become one of the fastest growing segments of the technology industry, from Fitbits to the Apple Watch. Its tools are small computers that live in everyday devices: bracelets, phones, televisions, light bulbs. And its promise is a world where where we make better choices based on insights provided by the computation of large data sets. But to get to that point means confronting a future that many find disconcerting: homes and bodies integrated with machines that will track our movements, our heart rates, and our feelings.

This hour, we set out to understand and interrogate this phenomenon. Can "the self" actually be quantified? Should it be?

  1. From Bites to Bytes - Quantifying the Everyday

    Over the last several years, new developments in personal health tracking products have multiplied exponentially. But human interest in measuring and tracking elements of our bodily needs stretches back hundreds of years. Professor Natasha Schüll discusses these current trends and their history, based on research she's done for a forthcoming book called "Keeping Track."

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  2. Does Data Give Life Meaning?

    Nicholas Felton transforms data into something beautiful. As a self-described "information designer" and extremely dedicated life logger, he tracks aspects of his life over the course of the year and then publishes them as "annual reports."

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  3. The Sonified Self - Transforming Data Into Music

    The process of data sonification is exactly what it sounds like: the translation of data points into various sounds, each with unique characteristics that can change over time. So instead of turning your spreadsheets into charts and graphs, they can now be turned into a kind of music. Matt Kenney demonstrates how it's done.

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  4. Our Automated Future

    When Stephen Wolfram was 17, he dropped out of college. By the time he was 21, he had a Ph.D. in physics and was one of the first recipients of a MacArthur Genius Award. Today, he is the CEO of Wolfram Research and owner of one of the largest individual datasets in the world.

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  5. Chronicling, then Letting Go

    In her new memoir, "Ongoingness," Sarah Manguso talks about how keeping a diary—so often considered a virture—for her became a vice. But her obsessive diary keeping changed with the birth of her first child.

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