Forming Persona through metrics: Can we think freely in the shadow of our data?

Suneel Jethani, Nadine Raydan


The use of wearable biosensors to track many aspects of life has been received with great enthusiasm for their potential to enhance conceptions of self. The self-tracker is framed as a heroic figure who is insightful, actualised, virtuous, and in control. With a persistent imperative to manage one’s life, experimentation, active intervention (a health kick, diet or detox), preventative self monitoring or the conscious foregrounding of habits are constructed as insightful practices of self betterment. Such conditions fix individuals to symbolic discourses, permissions, limits and thresholds, which prefigure and enclose energies directed towards the formation of self-knowledge and conception of selfhood. In this paper we critically explore persona-formation through the material and technically mediated production of personal metrics which we argue are aligned to externally calibrated goals, thresholds, norms and expectations. Further, we suggest, these measures exhibit a complex relation of knowledge production (n=1) and a reabsorption of persona into the technical, ideological and institutional structures giving rise to the ontologies that make such data meaningful (n=all). We suggest that political resistance in self-tracking and their associated cultures of technical innovation produce epistemologies of persona that cannot be divorced from the technocratic logic of ‘saturated’and ‘networked’conceptions of self. We conclude with the assertion that although self-tracking does produce emancipatory conceptions of personhood they are caught up in a ‘neoliberal moment’which is shaping technical affordances, interfaces, business models, routes to innovation and policy relating to the use and re-use of personal data.


Quantified Self,

Full Text:



Barbour, Kim, P. David Marshall, and Christopher Moore. "Persona to Persona Studies." M/C Journal 17.3 (Jun. 2014). 19 Feb. 2015 .

Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2000. Print.

Beck-Gernsheim, Elisabeth. Life As a Planning Project. in Lash, Scott, and Bronislaw Szerszynski (eds.). Risk, Environment and Modernity: Towards a New Ecology. London Sage Publ, 1996. Print.

Bell, C G, Jim Gemmell, and C G. Bell. Your Life, Uploaded: The Digital Way to Better Memory, Health, and Productivity. New York: Plume, 2010. Print.

Bijker, Wiebe E. Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1995. Print.

Bolter, J D, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Undestanding New Media. London: The MIT press, 2002. Print.

Bush, Vannevar. "As We May Think." Atlantic. 176.1 (1945). Print.

Donaldson, Stewart I., and Elisa J. Grant-Vallone. "Understanding self-report bias in organizational behavior research." Journal of Business and Psychology 17.2 (2002): 245-260.

Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York: Basic Books, 1991. Print.

Floridi, Luciano. The Philosophy of Information. Oxford England: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

Giddens, Anthony. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1991. Print.

Golko, A.J., M.W. Schmidt, and F. Alvarez. "Wrist-Worn Electronic Device and Methods Therefor." Google Patents, 2012. Print.

Jethani, Suneel and Daly, Angela. Fitness Tracking Data in Courts — Persuasive But Not Conclusive. The Conversation 24 November 2014.

Hassan, Robert. "Our Post-Modern Vanity: The Cult of Efficiency and the Regress to the Boundary of the Animal World." Philosophy & Technology (2014): 1-19. Print.

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford university press, 2007. Print.

Lefebvre, Henri. Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time, and Everyday Life. London: Continuum, 2008. Print.

Lupton, Deborah. Self-Tracking Modes: Reflexive Self-Monitoring and Data Practices (August 19) 2014. Available at SSRN: or 2483549

Marcuse, Herbert. One-dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964. Print.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. , 1964. Print.

Morozov, Evgeny. To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. , 2013. Print.

Mumford, Lewis. Technics and Civilisation. New York N.Y.: Harcourt, Brace and Co, 1934. Print.

Nowotny, Helga. Time: The Modern and Postmodern Experience. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1994. Print.

Power, Michael. "The audit society—Second thoughts." International Journal of Auditing 4.1 (2000): 111-119.

Røssaak, Eivind. "The Archive in Motion: An Introduction." The Archive in Motion (2010): 11-26.

Rothenberg, David. Hand's End: Technology and the Limits of Nature. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Print.

Strathern, Marilyn. Audit Cultures : Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics, and the Academy. London; New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Stiegler Bernard, and Stephen Barker. Technics and Time. 2, Disorientation. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009. Print.

Stivoric, J., F. Gemperle, and C. Kasabach. "Wearable Human Physiological Data Sensors and Reporting System Therefor." Google Patents, 2003. Print.

Townley, Barbara. Reason's Neglect: Rationality and Organising. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Wicklund, Robert A, and Martina Eckert. The Self-Knower: A Hero Under Control. New York: Plenum Press, 1992. Print.

Varnelis, Kazys. Networked Publics. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2008. Print.

Wolf, Gary. "The data-driven life." The New York Times 28 April 2010.

Yuen, S.G.J., J. Park, and E.N. Friedman. "Portable Monitoring Devices and Methods of Operating Same." Google Patents, 2012. Print.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License | ISSN 2205-5258