The quantified self
Sometime in the early 1980s — I can’t have been any older than 14 — I tagged along with my father on a trip he made to New York to commission some work from the artist Agnes Denes. You shouldn’t get the idea that my father was any sort of Medici, or generally has taste quite as refined as his choice of Denes suggests; that I know of, this was the only time he ever did anything along these lines, and certainly there weren’t a whole lot of hard-drinking, Lacan-reading conceptualists in our family life.
Agnes immediately struck me as one of those force-of-nature types, and her studio was everything you’d expect and hope, a cabinet of curiosities furnished entirely with the everted contents of her own mind. The things I saw that day, little shardy glimpses of SoHo and the daily lifestyle of a SoHo artist circa 1983, remain indelible in my mind.
There was one piece of hers in particular I’ll never forget, at least in its general outlines. It was an open glass bowl, containing what to all appearances was a mound of incinerated human remains, bone chunks and all. And the placard mounted alongside the bowl read something like this:
These are the earthly remains of Firstname Lastname, who lived 71 years, 10 months, 13 days, 3 hours, 26 minutes and 17 seconds. In his lifetime he experienced 2,521,490,585 heartbeats and breathed 605,491,268 times. He urinated 39,280 times, for a total output volume of 48,872 liters, and experienced 24,718 bowel movements. In the course of his life he married twice, and enjoyed 3,668 sex acts with these two wives and 16 other partners (fourteen women and two men); including 12,463 acts of masturbation, mostly to completion, these resulted in a total of 15,531 orgasms.
I’m pretty sure about most of that stuff being there. (I’m absolutely certain of the word “orgasm,” because I’d never seen it outside of a verrrry furtively thumbed book before, and there it was on the wall in screaming 48-point Helvetica.)
What I’m less sure about is whether or not I’ve embroidered into the memory a final statistic, which was a figure representing the weight of the ashes. Anyway, that’s what I think of every time I hear someone talk about “the quantified self.”
- Urban data: From fetish object to social object | 14th March 2014 at LSE Cities 27 February 2014
- Two recent interviews 24 February 2014
- TFTD 23 February 2014
- An event on urban data: Beyond the fetish object, toward the social object 30 January 2014
- On the survivors’ bond 1 December 2013
Being discussed now
- Urban data: From fetish object to social object – seminar at LSECities on Urban data: From fetish object to social object | 14th March 2014 at LSE Cities
- Design Critic Weighs In On Yet Another Electronic Book-Device | Beyond the Beyond | Wired on Kindling
- Adam Greenfield’s Central Dogma | Beyond the Beyond | Wired on Shielding, undistraction and conviviality, and my central dogma
- French Journalist Attempts to Understand Everyware | Beyond the Beyond | Wired on Chronic’art interview, annotated
- Actively fighting for moments of calm | Beyond the Beyond | Wired on Interactions interview