The Quantified, Qualified and Connected Self

This week the topic on the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC has been Identity. We have tried to answer questions such as:

  • How do we know who someone is?
  • How do we project ourselves on the internet?
  • How can we be safe and secure?

To answer these questions we have discussed what identity means, digital and otherwise, we have created identity graphs (there are some great examples, see the end of this post) and Stephen Downes, convener of this MOOC, has introduced us to the idea of encryption keys.

For me there remains a topic which perhaps needs further discussion, and that is, what do we mean by quantified self, qualified self and connected self, what is the difference between them and why do we need to know?

Stephen has written:

We were the client, we were the product – are we, at last, the content? We are the thread that runs through an otherwise disconnected set of data, and knowledge about ourselves, our associations, and our community will create an underlying fabric against which the value and relevance of everything else will be measured. Instead of demographics being about quantity (sales charts, votes in elections and polls, membership in community) we will now have access to a rich tapestry of data and relations.

If this becomes the case, then we will have an unparalleled opportunity to become more self-reflective, both as individuals and as a community. The “quantified self” will give way to the “qualified self” and ultimately to the “connected self” as we begin to define ourselves not merely by simple measures of ethnicity, language, religion and culture, but through thousands of shared experiences, affinities, and inclinations. Evidence for this trend already exists and can be found through the exploration of expression of communities and culture online.

I am familiar with the idea of the Quantified Self. I’m aware that I could track and measure a lot of what I do if I so wished; my calorie intake, how much I sleep, how many steps a day I take, my heart rate etc. etc.  In the past, I have done a little of this. I did once own a Fitbit and I do have a Strava account, but my interest in them waned very quickly, and I now don’t use either. I find I don’t need a machine to tell me when I am eating badly or am not fit enough – I know. And I don’t want to think of my body, or myself, as a machine. I was dismayed when searching for information on the Quantified Self to find reference to the Quantified Baby. I would suggest there’s a limit to how much we should be measuring human beings. And that goes for activity on social media too. I have observed people on social media who admit to measuring themselves by the number of followers / friends etc. they can display on their sites. Like Geoff Cain (see his tweet below), I am happier with two or three in depth interactions and I am even happier if these happen in private rather than public.

geoffcain @geoffcain Analytics does not mean very much in the end. I have been happier lately with the two or three in depth interactions I have had with people online than I have with months of high traffic “hits.” #el30 #highered #edtech

So I am not a fan of the Quantified Self, for myself, although that’s not to deny its uses, in terms of health and well-being.

The Qualified Self sounds like a move in the right direction, but what does it mean? According to one recently published author, it means a more ‘well-rounded’ self ( see Humphreys, L. 2018. The Qualified Self. Social Media and the Accounting of Everyday Life, MIT Press, )

I haven’t read the book but José van Dijck, Distinguished University Professor, Utrecht University; author of Mediated Memories in the Digital Age and The Culture of Connectivity, has endorsed the book as follows:

The Qualified Self offers a new perspective on how social media users construct and distribute ‘self-portraits’ through media technologies. Lee Humphreys has delivered a truly original revision of ‘mediated memories’ and a much-needed update to the age of connectivity.

Lee Humphreys, from the reviews I have read, believes that online sharing of the minutiae of our daily lives, ‘selfies’ and so on, is not narcissistic, but simply a continuation of an age old tradition of diary writing and similar activities. As I say, I haven’t read the book, but I would want evidence that the sharing of the ‘diary writing’ is not for the purpose of collecting more followers and more clicks, if we are to believe in a fully Qualified Self. Of course the Qualified and Quantified selves could presumably exist alongside each other.

Stephen has suggested that our identity graphs will provide the rich data of tapestry and relations which will give us the opportunity to become more self-reflective, both as individuals and as a community and shift from the Quantified Self to the Qualified Self. This is not statistical data. It is data reflecting self-knowledge.

It has been hard to find anything very much online about the Qualified Self, but there is a good post written in 2014 by Mark Carrigan, which seems to align with Stephen’s and Lee Humphrey’s writing. In this post, Mark writes:

….. I’m suggesting qualitative self-tracking can be thought of as a distinct type of practice.

…. My point at the time was that the ethos of self-knowledge through numbers does very little for me personally. But I’m intellectually drawn to the Quantified Self because it’s a fascinating example of the intensification of reflexivity in contemporary society. (Mark has written Quantified Self in this final sentence, but I think it’s a typo and he means Qualified Self. That would make more sense in the context of his writing)

And then he goes on to attempt to define the Qualified Self,

Here’s an attempt at a definition of qualitative self-tracking: using mobile technology to recurrently record qualities of experience or environment, as well as reflections upon them, with the intention of archiving aspects of personal life that would otherwise be lost, in a way susceptible to future review and revision of concerns, commitments and practices in light of such a review. So obviously things like personal journals would fall into this category.

From this, the Qualified Self is more reflective and less concerned with measurement and numbers.

That leaves the Connected Self. I’m assuming this means being connected to our inner selves and our own ‘Being’, which would be a progression from the Qualified Self, but would also mean being connected to the selves of ‘Others’. The Connected Self would be a more ‘embodied’ self, which understands itself in terms of relations and ‘betweenness’. ‘Betweenness’ is a topic I was exploring before starting this MOOC. On reflection I think it is relevant to both the Qualified Self and the Connected Self.

I have not found it easy to unpick what Qualified Self and Connected Self mean. If you are reading this post, perhaps you have some thoughts / alternative perspectives you would be willing to share?

Source of imageHarvard Business Review

Participants’ Identity Graphs

Matthias Melcher –

Roland Legrand –

Kevin Hodgson –

Geoff Cain –

Frank Polster –

Laura Ritchie – 

Ioannou Karvelas –

Vahid Masrour – 

Keith Hamon –

Dorian –

Random Access –

Gerald Ardito –  

Lou – 

6 thoughts on “The Quantified, Qualified and Connected Self

  1. x28 November 16, 2018 / 3:30 pm

    Your inspiring post leads me to wild speculations. Maybe the ‘quantified self’ will, in the sense of the ‘rich tapestry’ that Stephen depicts, lose the terrible flavor of bean-counting measure addicts. Instead, the MANY data (big data) are like the pixels of a picture, which forms the backdrop of our wholeness experience against which we notice any unusual/ outstanding/ salient things/ patterns/ concepts, much in the way of the ‘right hemisphere’ mode’s encounter with the new. These concepts, thus, become the ‘qualitative’ stage, and they are processed (isolated and fixed) by the ‘left hemisphere’ mode. In the dialectical triangle that McGilchrist describes, they are finally returned to the ‘right hemisphere’ mode, and it’s not much of a stretch to call this the ‘connected’ stage since, of course, the connections are what overcomes the isolation and abstraction of the intermediate stage.
    For my graph, I already found myself using the data that were automatically collected and relieved me from searching in my archives.

  2. dogtrax November 16, 2018 / 3:51 pm

    Thanks for all your posts, Jenny. You sometimes “read” Stephen differently than I do — and you usually do this with greater depth and deeper understanding. To see ideas filtered through others — well, this is part of this whole discussion of who we are and how we refract our way into the world though sharing and audience. Is that quantifiable? Qualifiable? The terms may not do justice to the ideas.

  3. jennymackness November 16, 2018 / 7:42 pm

    This is a response / comment from STEPHEN DOWNES – copied here from –

    Well these are still concepts in flux (as is the whole course). I had not seen Mark Carrigan and Lee Humphrey on this. For me, the shift originates in the idea that there is quantitative, qualitative and connective knowledge, as I outline in ‘An Introduction to Connective Knowledge’.

    This week I encountered the work of historian Jill Lepore on the history of the United States. She argues that its constitution was created around the time quantity (eg., votes) rather than quality (eg., facts) became important. Now we are entering an age where science (as it relates to quantity) is being question, and quality (facts) doesn’t seem to be filling the void. But that’s what we’re trying for. Hence, ‘quantified self’ (data) to ‘qualified self’ (facts about the self).

    But facts won’t be sufficient. What does a series of statements of facts about the self look like? It’s a description of properties, and so we are only able to form communities and alliances and, indeed, understandings of the self, by means of *sameness*. Think: religious purity, ethnic purity, nationalism, etc. And these forms of self-definition are ultimately essentialist, ultimately limiting, ultimately static.

    So we come to connected self, but what does that look like. It doesn’t eliminate either number or fact – these are still aspects of ourselves – but it doesn’t allow them to be defining. Conceptually, it allows that there are sets of statements containing facts and data, and that these statements are connected, such that a change in one statement can cause a change in another statement. Physically, it amounts to the idea that we actually *are* an interconnected set of entities – neurons, body, social environment (this to be argued about for the next century) that interact, and that our self, our identity, literally *is* this set of connections, and exists only insofar as it is recognized, either self-referentially (by means of our ‘perceiving’ ourselves, or at least, a facet of ourselves) or externally, by means of other’s perception and recognition of yourself-as-a-something.

    I’m sure none of this is original, but that seems to me to be how we’re beginning to understand who we are in the future.

  4. Laura Ritchie November 18, 2018 / 7:02 am

    I continue to enjoy reading your posts and I especially appreciate your practice of putting other people’s posts at the end. Sometimes having those links *just there* allows the thoughts to keep going through the lenses of others at just the right moment. Thank you

  5. jennymackness November 18, 2018 / 9:58 am

    Thank you Matthias, Kevin, Stephen and Laura for your very helpful responses to this post. You have said Kevin that ‘I sometimes “read” Stephen differently to you’. It would be great to hear a bit more about this.

    What strikes me once again in reading these comments is how we each see the world, and in the context of this discussion the meaning of quantified, qualified and connected self, through self-selected models, or in Stephen’s case of connectivism, a self-created model.

    I realised after reading your comment, Stephen, that had I been thinking through the lens of connectivism when writing this post, I might have come up with something nearer your thinking, but my thinking at the time was nearer how I have interpreted Matthias’s comment. Even there, I realise that whilst Matthias and I are both interested in Iain McGilchrist’s work, we have very likely not interpreted his ‘model’ (if you can call it that) in the same way.

    I wonder if your model Stephen, (would you call connectivism a model? a theory?), i.e. thinking of identity in connectivism terms requires a paradigm shift, rather than just a tweaking or adding on to existing models. I particularly appreciate this part of your comment:

    … we actually *are* an interconnected set of entities – neurons, body, social environment (this to be argued about for the next century) that interact, and that our self, our identity, literally *is* this set of connections, and exists only insofar as it is recognized, either self-referentially (by means of our ‘perceiving’ ourselves, or at least, a facet of ourselves) or externally, by means of other’s perception and recognition of yourself-as-a-something….

    I think it a pity that connectivism is discussed so often solely in terms of social connections. For this interpretation of identity, that you have shared, neuronal and conceptual conceptions must be essential to the argument.

    What you have written makes sense to me, but I do still wonder whether there is something in and about identity that goes beyond a set of connections and cannot be captured in this way. I’m just thinking aloud here and continue to puzzle about this, which to me relates to the question we have discussed about what it means to be human and George Siemens comments about ‘being-ness’.

    I have really enjoyed the discussion this week.

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