Reconciling Quantified Self, Lifelogging, Big Data And…

There’s always a difficulty in having a progressive discussion when the different parties come from different domains. With different world views or attitudes come different terminologies. What if we could communicate a bit more effectively between domains? The model presented in this post attempts to map out how players from the “opposing fields” of Lifelogging, Quantified Self, Social Networking (or “Social Media“) and Big Data look at and think of each other.

Since I started working at Narrative a year ago, a company in the “lifelogging” field, I’ve been immersing myself into these domains of personal activity tracking, hi-tech sensor devices that record and measure various aspects of your life, and algorithmic data engines that try to make sense of all this data. I’ve been noticing that there is a huge variety of people’s reasons to be in this field. Just take a look at the documentary Lifeloggers for an overview of lots of different types of stories!

Because of this, I wanted to try and find a common ground, a bigger terminology, a way to reconcile all these different attitdes so that we can communicate and collaborate in a more fruitful capacity. Let’s go!


The Quadrants

So, let’s start by introducing the quadrants. We create a simple 2×2 matrix by using two distinctions: “Individual – Collective” and “Subjective- Objective”. It looks like this:


  • The upper left is the “intentional” or the “I”. This is the domain of “beauty” – spirituality, emotion, art, cognition and all those fluffy things.
  • The lower left is the “cultural” or the “We”. From this domain spring morals, our collective agreement of “what’s good” inside a group.
  • The upper right is the “behavioural/material” or the “It”. The hard sciences, what’s objectively observable and measurable.
  • The lower right is the “(social) systems” or the “Its”. Traffic, weather, politics, law, etc – the chaotic or predictable interplay between many soulless entities.

integralquadrants (1)

Quadrants Applied To Lifelogging/Quantified Self

Next, I’ll place our cast of four main actors inside these Quadrants, and I’ll explain below my rationale behind why they ended up where they did:

LifeloggingAQAL (1)

Lifelogging says “My life is worth recording and revisiting, if for noone else than myself. I want to capture cues that will jog my memory back to specific subjective experiences in my life – or series of experiences stringed together by time or other themes into my personal narrative. What did I see, hear, eat, who did I spend time with, how did I use my money and other resources?”

Social Media says: “Our lives, thoughts and ideas are worth sharing and interacting with. The world is made more interesting by understanding and bonding with other people, whether by physical proximity or digital tribes. We all have a voice and a part in co-creating our future, and in the song and dance of our ephemeral now.”

Quantified Self says: “If I can measure a behavior or material circumstance in my life, I can improve it. Thus, my body and my actions are my laboratory and my situation in life the outcome – stronger, smarter, wealthier and healthier. The more data I can collect, the more power of influence over my own destiny I gain. And the more exact those numbers, the less the error potential.”

Big Data says: “There’s power in numbers. By aggregating and correlating sources and streams of data, we can come to rational conclusions that can gain the individual, the society and/or the corporations. We can see trends, draw insights and plan strategies for long term progress and success. We can build a model over specific domains – and eventually over the world.”


Perspectives Facing Each Other

Of course, bear in mind that all of the above contain massive generalizations – just like maps always do. Now, finally we’ll expand the quadrants to something akin to four corners of a boxing ring, and have all of them face each other. How do their respective positions affect their views of one another?

QuantifiedAQ (1)

The way to read the above illustration is to look at one quadrant at a time. Then you can see how the circled domain views the other domains. For example, starting from “Lifelogging“, it looks at “Quantified Self” and sees “Insights and Personal Growth“, it looks at “Social Media” and sees “Oversharing, Transparency and Narcissism“, it looks at “Big Data” and sees “Surveillance and Security“. And so on, across the quadrants. It gets a bit heady, I know! :)

This is where I’d like to invite for discussion. Do you agree with the positioning of the four domains in one quadrant each? Does it make sense to generalize their respective reasoning and attitude towards each other? And how can this model be of help for people from Lifelogging, Quantified Self, Big Data and Social Media to come together? Is there even a conflict of interests to start with? Please join in the comments or tweet me @niclasj!


Ending Disclaimer

Like all theoretical work this model is very derivative, so credit where credit’s due. I found the writings of Ken Wilber eight or so years back, right after having been through more or less of a spiritual/personal crisis. His “integral model of everything” or “AQAL” (short for All Quadrants, Levels, lines, states and types) felt like intellectual salvation in a sea of conflicting domains to my mindset of wanting to piece together all fragmented beliefs/worldviews that had to be reconciled for me to pick myself up and move forward again. If you’re looking for a sane way to “marry sense and soul” and get a useful meta-model over both physical and metaphysical reality, I really recommend you take a look at “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality“, Wilber’s most widely referenced book. (This is just an application of the first element in the AQAL model – the quadrants.)

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10 thoughts on “Reconciling Quantified Self, Lifelogging, Big Data And…

  1. Pingback: Hackernytt | Om startups och allt som hör till. På svenska. | Reconciling Quantified Self, Lifelogging, Big Data And…

    • Thanks Mattias! I hope this can spark a good conversation…
      - What are some more nuanced ways to express the sentiments/attitudes in the last picture?
      - Seeing that real humans aren’t purely in one quadrant but probably belong to several, how can this “map for reconciliation” be used to reconcile intra-individually and not just inter-individually?
      - (integral theory) Isn’t this really an application of quadrants + types, where “types” in this case are subject – object?
      - etc…

  2. Thanks Niclas for these diagrams. When I put myself into the “Quantified Self” circle and ask, do the rectangles in that quadrant accurately express my sense of (some of) the meaning of what is going on in the other quadrants, I say “yes.” I might not use the same vocabulary exactly, but each of these rectangles refers to something important in the others.

    • Thanks for dropping by, Gary. I’m glad to hear that that perspective resonates with one of the founders of QS! And yes, we’re all part of expanding, nuancing and bridging these fields – that’s the biggest takeaway for me from attending (so far) two QS conferences, so wonderfully arranged by you, Ernesto and the community.

  3. Pingback: What We Are Reading | Quantified SelfQuantified Self

  4. Well done Niclas for bringing together those elements.
    Would love to engage/discuss with you and others about the Apps that will make it easy to aggregate, compare, share …

    • Hi Laurent! I look forward to that discussion, I hope the engagement around the Narrative open API will lead to some truly exciting applications/aggregations/visualizations. There’s more thoughts on a “meta” level concerning Quantified Self, will probably do another post soon!

  5. Good post! The 2×2 matrix reminds me of the social player types. Have you thought about how this “infrastructural”-matrix (do you agree?) interacts with the “behavioral”-matrix of the player types?

  6. Hey Niclas – thanks for writing this. The most interesting part is how each of the quadrants “views” the others. I think these “edges” are what will be the discussion for the years to come, as well as a source of possible disruptive or alternative models. Diving deeper each view hosts both positive and negative aspects (e.g. “oversharing” or “better connecting”?)

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