The Question of the Subject in Times of the Quantified Self

Delivered as a paper presentation at First Forum 2016 ­- Subjected to Play: Locating the Subject in the Promise of Play. Cinema and Media Studies Graduate Student Conference. USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Revised version published in Spectator. Vol 38, No. 1, Spring 2018


Digital self-tracking is a contemporary phenomenon that started making waves around 2007 and ten years later is reaching its climax. It consists in using digital devices to monitor some aspect(s) of one’s life–from sleep, geographical movements, and exercise routines, to emotions and even sex performance–in order to understand and improve oneself. The Quantified Self(QS) is the default name journalists use to refer to these practices, even when the QS community is only a subgroup of self-trackers–one that is guided by the motto “self-knowledge through numbers”. The range of practices that today fall under the category of digital self-tracking is very wide, however, all of them usually share essential elements: they use digital technologies to do some type of monitoring of the self, most of the data is gathered through bodily indicators, and they tend to have a quantitative focus –if not in the nature of the data collected, in its aggregation and presentation. The paradox is that digital self-tracking is becoming a cultural phenomenon precisely when concepts of humanity and self are being called into question (Braidotti, Pettman, Esposito, Haraway, Stiegler). In this paper, I examine the growing popularity of digital self-tracking through the theories of three authors that problematize the concept of the subject–Michel Foucault’s, Vilém Flusser’s, and Bernard Stiegler’s. I also elaborate on how specific self-tracking practices can be analyzed as specific examples of abstract strategies to deal with the contemporary crisis of the subject proposed by these authors. Finally, I conclude by trying to resituate digital self-tracking in the context of the anthropocene, the posthuman, and the inhuman.

Full paper available upon email request.