Quantified Selfie or Quantified Selfishness?

Joseph Greene
Jun 21, 2017 · 4 min read

In 2007 Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly of Wired coined the term Quantified Self. At that point little of the information we produced could be recorded and studied by the person producing it. A pedometer attached to shoelaces was the primary means of doing so. Today we are beginning to see items like temporary wearable tattoos for information tracking.

As the years passed by, and social media use expanded, the “selfie” became a thing. People began taking pictures of themselves for their profile. This morphed into pictures of themselves in a multitude of locations, and eventually group pictures and pictures taken by other people that are still called selfies for some reason. Studies have shown mixed results about the psychological state of people posting selfies, with some directly tying it to narcissism and psychopathy while others are more lenient in their diagnosis.

With the myriad of new information that we can collect, and the things that are expected in the near future, I’ve begun to wonder about the idea of a “Quantified Selfie.” There are a few elements that I want to explore more closely here:

  1. What information will be shared
  2. Where will we share it
  3. What is the motivation

What information will be shared?

I’m not sure if there’s a limit here. Currently my watch tracks things like my heart rate, level of activity, calories burned, steps taken, and other health information as I see fit. It sends some of that information to a website where I’m part of several groups that do things like jog and bike. Combine that with tracking my food intake online and I’ve got a pretty solid starting point for understanding my health.

With that said, so much more is going to be available for the Quantified Self that figuring out what to share, and who to share it with, could be the next great social challenge. If you’re wearing the new temporary tattoos to track certain elements of your health, how do you ensure anyone other than you and your health professionals have access to that information?

Tracking this information is going to expand to nearly every area of life. Combining those things into one single output could produce something like a Quantified Selfie. An image you share with others, highlighting the parts of yourself that you’re comfortable sharing, to present yourself in a way that you think makes you look the best. Even then, where will you share these things?

We will share whatever we want to share because we will have access to nearly everything.

Where will we share it?

Social media is an obvious starting point. Imagine for a moment that you have an AR headset on and when you browse Facebook to see the person who just sent you a friend request. What you see is the profile picture, but that picture is overplayed with data about that person’s typical hangouts due to GPS tracking, how often they go to the gym and how much they lift due to a fitness app, what their credit score is thanks to a financial app, etc.

How does this affect friendships? What changes might this make in our willingness to loan a friend money? If someone keeps a lot of their information private, are we going to be willing to befriend them? What will be the standards for dating apps now that they’re so prevalent in relationships? Recently two dating apps have presented us with interesting first looks into where things are going.

The Hater dating app matches you with people who have mutual dislikes. This moves us beyond the typical shared likes and adds another layer to whom we might be compatible with. Taking things another step, Match.com has recently taken a page from Craigslist. Missed Connections uses GPS to show you data about potential matches that have similar activities and spend time in the same areas as you do.

We will share things wherever we want because everything will make room for whatever information we want regardless of platform.

What is the motivation?

Really, why are we sharing so much? What could we possibly want to gain from the Quantified Self? Is this just the next evolution in our social neediness or is it something far more troubling like narcissism or psychopathy? A couple of things come to mind here.

I follow a few personal finance blogs, and they all have commonalities. The most surprising of them is that they all have a monthly post where they detail the finances of the blog itself. Each one tells you exactly how much they made, what sources produced what income, and how it compares to previous months. Is this openness inspiring, bragging, or both?

I’ve pulled back on how much I share on Facebook about my fitness activities. After a while I had to take a good, hard look at why I was updating there when I already had the information on Garmin and was sharing it with my group on Strava. What difference did it make if anyone on Facebook new about anything other than the big events? Was my motive to motivate others or self proclamation?

Where does AR/VR fit into this? Will we be presenting a readout to others as they scan us with their devices? Would it be bragging to make sure certain information is accessible more easily than other information? Are we being dishonest if we only present certain information in one place and not in another?

We will have to determine our motivation honestly.

So, what are you going to do about it?

We need to figure out the line between meaningful sharing and self aggrandizement. There also needs to be intentional thought as to how we use the deluge of information about ourselves and others that we are going to have in the very near future. Will the Quantified Self become the new measure of status and will we be able to keep our egos in check?

Joseph Greene

Written by

Instructional Designer, PhD student, learner, educator, traveler, futurist.