Digital Portraiture and the Quantified Self

Edith Ackermann
“Digital Portraiture and the Quantified Self: Paradoxes and Ironies of Living by the Numbers”

Socrates famously wrote “the life which is unexamined is not worth living”. And as the examiners themselves are part of the life, their accounts are by necessity auto-biographical. What’s new, in this day and age, is that the very idea of “self, and its role in the making of a life worth living, have shifted to the point of omitting the mind between the brain and body. Psychiatry, behavioral- and neurosciences have outed psych-analysis, and what’s left to examine are the numeric expressions of otherwise invisible bits and atoms that drive our attempts to tame our unconscious. Marshall Mac Luhan saw it coming: “In the electronic age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness”. The quantified self (big data applied to digital portraiture) is steeped in the behaviorist credo that coming to know who we are, or developing a feeling for what matters, is akin to measuring how we do. Its motto: Get the facts, show the evidence, fix the problem, and reach your goal! Its dictate: Beware of human interpreters. Data speaks for itself, and the bigger the data the stronger its predicament. This talk addresses some of the paradoxes that arise from taking at face value, or living by, the numbers that draw the contours of our digital identities—with no regard to, or understanding of, who we “really” are when mindful of the Psyche’s own capricious “logic”! That’s when the poets’ musings, the philosophers’ insights, and the scientists’ wildest guesses are worth a hundred bio-trackers, self-help devices, and monitoring tools!

About the speaker: Edith K. Ackermann is a Prof. of Psychology, University of Aix-Marseille, France, and former Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT Media laboratory. She worked a Scientific Collaborator at the Centre International d’Epistémologie Génétique, under the direction of Jean Piaget, in Geneva, Switzerland. Current appointments include: The “Responsive Environments’ Group at HGSD, The “Personal Robots” group at the MIT Media Lab, and the “Computing” group at the MIT School of Architecture.