Love of the Self or Data sexuality?

Gary Wolf at Quantified Self 2011

When I read this article about the new breed of urban datasexuals I instantly thought maybe heck I might be one of them…?

The datasexual looks a lot like you and me, but what’s different is their preoccupation with personal data. They are relentlessly digital, they obsessively record everything about their personal lives, and they think that data is sexy. In fact, the bigger the data, the sexier it becomes. Their lives – from a data perspective, at least – are perfectly groomed.

Oh crap that sounds just like me… I find it very difficult to maintain things on paper and much prefer them in data because I can manage them much better. I assumed it was a dyslexia thing to be honest (it might still be).

The origin of the datasexual in all likelihood started with the humble infographic, which is a highly stylized and well-designed way to talk about all the data out there on Web. The infographic trend was followed by the data visualization trend, which made it even cooler to display data in innovative new ways. These data visualization tools eventually gave us cultural artifacts like Nicholas Felton’s annual Feltron Reports, which made the obsessive recording of everyday activities seem cool. From there, it was only a small evolutionary step to the whole quantified self (QS) movement, which promises “self knowledge through numbers.” QS proponents obsessively track every single bit of data about themselves throughout the day. The QS movement eventually led us to the embrace of data by consumer-facing companies Nike, who found a way for urban datasexuals to flaunt their obsessive data-grooming to the rest of us in a way that’s stylish and mod.

For me it stems back to my ideas of the information behind the graphics.

When I was in college, I got into XML because I loved the idea of creating graphics which are self describing and can alter depending on the data there based on.  Hence my love of Scalable Vector Graphics (w3c’s SVG specification). I was also a major pusher of SVG at the BBC for graphics and informational graphics but at the time browser technology was way behind.

Maybe this also reflects why my love of the idea of online dating via numbers, maths, science also really intrigues me so deeply?

The link up between the Quantified Self, personal data and sharing is so tight and also asks many questions. Questions which the early adopters and hackers are answering for themselves right now.

I remember my previous manager Miles Metcalfe, talking about the intangible of the semantic web… Somethings can not be quantified, at least in the ways were going about it right now. I would agree but we’ll have a good old go trying to do so. And from doing so we’ll have lots of fun, its when it stops becoming fun is the problem…

I’ll say it now… Data is Sexy no two ways about it… but the term data sexual does worry me a little along with quite a few of the commenters. Its Data Love but under the understanding that not everything can be defined or captured yet.

Updated

After the debate on Techgrumps 60 yesterday (listen to the last 10mins to understand) with Tom Morris who compares Data sexuality to something else which is certainly not pretty or nice. But the point is taken, what has this got to do with sexuality? Spicing it up with sexuality just confuses the whole thing and maybe makes those who love data into something their not. Data love is much better as a overall idea.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.