<strong>Quantified Self: Movement as a Means to Self-Archiving</strong>

Quantified Self: Movement as a Means to Self-Archiving

By Alexandra Lomakina

Illustration by Zac Colah

In the olden days, archiving practices primarily focused on preserving socially and historically significant materials, with archivists serving as custodians for the public. However, the time has passed, and the advent of technology in our contemporary lives has transformed our daily activities into something more, namely, self-archiving. This phenomenon managed to extend the definition of archives to encompass individual, private, and intimate records. Nowadays, individuals can document various aspects of their life experiences, leading to the emergence of the “quantified self” movement, where self-knowledge is pursued through the collection of numerical data via self-tracking tools and apps. 

Originally, self-archiving involved creating digital copies of documents for open access, aligning with the principles of the “green open access” movement, which aims to make academic papers universally available [1]. Although the concept of self-archiving is relatively new, its roots trace back to the 1980s when computer scientists had been already active practitioners of self-archiving. However, it was not until 1994 that Steven Harnad officially proposed it beyond computer science disciplines [2]. 

While self-archiving is commonly associated with an academic framework, a number of scholars nevertheless consider it to be broader than that. Some believe that the practice can be expanded to greater niche use. To date, it is seen that self-archiving can be personal and individual, which does not have to refer only to scholarly activities and materials belonging to them. One of the vivid examples of such belief is the “quantified self” movement. 

When considering the “quantified self”, many probably envision self-tracking via different apps on their personal devices. Today more and more people wear smartwatches or have certain apps on their mobile phones to track their physical activity, sports performance, calorie intake, and so on [3] [4]. It goes without saying that there are other ways of monitoring the self; however, for the most part, everything revolves around human health. Caring and concern for one’s health have always been present in people’s lives, but sometimes it was not its most fundamental aspect, and then suddenly an increasing number of consumers began to actively look after themselves and their condition. So, then the following question arises: Did people just decide out of nowhere that they want to become healthier? To answer that, a couple of insights from three self-trackers were gathered from the fifth chapter of “The Quantified Self in Precarity: Work, Technology and What Counts”, the book written by Phoebe V. Moore. 

We begin with Robin Barooah, manager of the Sublime.org program, who suggests that the reason behind quantified-self movement is not solely about the will to stay fit and strong, it is rather about “the techno-social readiness to use the tools for that purpose” [5]. It would seem that this point is quite accurate and relevant. That makes it interesting to uncover the hidden desire behind this practice, the motive that makes others track and archive themselves.

The first thought was that humans have a lot of questions regarding the potential value of their collected data and what it can tell about themselves. This assumption was confirmed by Ian’s claim, a master’s student whose identity remains anonymous. He highlights that having a look at the past can tell a lot about our personalities; therefore, helping us to come to a specific conclusion and to discover the future potential for self-improvement [5]. Certainly, life is easier to understand when it exists as a system with particular patterns, and that can be achieved only with self-archiving practice via quantifying oneself. 

Despite the empowering and overwhelming feeling that quantified and preserved personal data gives, there is a chance of getting lost in between, and there is a risk of losing one’s true self as well. This was also experienced by our second self-tracker when he was in college. The enormous amount of his data was everywhere, so sometimes he could not even trace the right reflection on himself in those numbers [5]. The instance tells us that we should perhaps consider the point of oversharing and where it might lead us. To what extent do we need to share with ourselves and others? How does this modern type of performance change someone’s life? How can the self-archiving practice be transformed with the concept of the “quantified self” movement?

Lastly, discussing Chris Dancy’s, internationally known as a ‘mindful cyborg’, insight, in which he raises concerns about technological surveillance, or as it is sometimes called ‘technological fascism’. This type of surveillance leads humanity directly to the point of potential commercialization of personal data on an imaginable market [5]. In other words, self-tracking practice might be no longer about collecting and preserving own data for personal use and self-improvement. Instead, the archive will be more of a personal stock, holding individual information to be sold later. It appears that we are already able to observe some acts of commercialization of information nowadays; however, the example is definitely a level ahead. Thus, Dancy warns that self-archiving might turn into a completely different system that has no privacy implications, and the “quantified self” issue can turn out to be a tool on the way to that. 

As we navigate the implications of the “quantified self” movement, questions arise regarding the future of self-archiving and its role in preserving personal privacy. Despite the uncertainties, the movement represents an intriguing offshoot of archival science, offering both opportunities for self-discovery and challenges regarding data privacy.

To conclude, the “quantified self” movement underscores the evolving nature of archiving practices in the digital age, prompting us to consider the boundaries between personal data and public access. 



[1] Harnad, Stevan. 2001.“The Self-Archiving Initiative | Nature.” n.d. Accessed December 11, 2022. https://www.nature.com/articles/35074210.

[2] Okerson, Ann. 1995. Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads: A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing. Washington, DC: Office of Scientific & Academic Publishing, Association of Research Libraries.

[3] van Garderen, Peter. 2021. “Archives, Technology, and Innovation.” n.d. Accessed December 2, 2022. https://vangarderen.net/posts/archives-technology-and-innovation.html.

[4] Lee, Victor. 2014. “What’s Happening in the ‘Quantified Self’ Movement?” ICLS 2014 Proceedings, January, 1032–36. http://dx.doi.org/10.13140/2.1.1132.1126.

[5] Moore, Phoebe V. 2017. The Quantified Self in Precarity: Work, Technology and What Counts. 186 – 208. New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315561523.  

[6] Acker, Amelia, and Jed R. Brubaker. 2014. “Death, Memorialization, And Social Media: A Platform Perspective For Personal Archives.” Accessed December 12, 2022. https://canvas.uva.nl/courses/33257/files/6933569?module_item_id=1335136.

[7] Jones, David Houston. 2015a. “All the Moments of Our Lives: Self-Archiving from Christian Boltanski to Lifelogging.” Archives and Records 36 (1): 29–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/23257962.2015.1010149.

[8] Beck, Katie, and Charlene Pele. 2010. “Writing History in the Digital Age,” September 17, 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/world_news_america/8999128.stm.



Alexandra Lomakina is a third-year bachelor’s student of Media and Information at the University of Amsterdam. Throughout the program, she developed an interest in the role of media and technology in our everyday lives. Outside of her studies, Alexandra works part-time as a marketing manager. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, and going to movies.

Zac Colah is a second-year International Relations student at Tufts University. At Tufts, he runs a satirical magazine called the Zamboni. Originally from Berkeley, California, he is an aspiring video journalist (see his youtube) and storyteller.

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