Digital sensors placed in phones, clothing, or household appliances to track how we walk, how much we sleep, or where we travel have heightened the sense that everything about our lives is quickly being translated into digital data. Theorists writing about data overload largely worry about questions of privacy and agency, focusing on the feelings of impotence produced by large quantities of data that now let corporations effortlessly monitor and regulate people’s lives.
My ethnography of those involved in the business of self-monitoring instead examines how the embodied labor of designers, developers, and marketers of wearable tools – as well their own professional ambitions, hardships, and anxieties – configures digital knowledge. This project draws from two years of dissertation fieldwork with developers of self-tracking tools in New York City’s Silicon Alley and with technology professionals who participate in the international forum called the Quantified Self. As I evaluate how the relationship of technology professionals to data opens onto wider debates about the politics of digital representation, I explore how collecting copious digital records has become meaningful work.