2017 Updates


Some announcements, to make up for infrequent updates!

From January to March 2017 I undertook an internship with the fantastic HXD group at Microsoft Research Cambridge, doing fieldwork as part of the ongoing Digital Possessions project, under the guidance of the excellent Sian Lindley.

I’m running a workshop on ‘Quantified Data and Social Relationships’ at CHI this year, with some great collaborators.

Lastly some new publications on my latest work:

‘On Speculative Enactments’, published with an Honourable Mention at CHI 2017, takes a look at the novel approach to doing speculative design research I’ve developed with colleagues in the Metadating and Abacus Weddings projects. Part reflection, part critique, part how-to, the paper proposes HCI should go beyond generating discourse about the future, and generate meaningful speculative experiences to engage participants.

‘Designing Documentary Informatics’ has been accepted to DIS 2017, and is a reflection on the Abacus Weddings project, and our explorations of a speculative service to document a wedding through quantified data.

The Abacus Weddings project was also presented at RTD 2017 in Edinburgh, with our very own wedding fair stall as part of the exhibition!

Three CHI 2016 Papers


Really delighted to announce that all three of the projects I’ve been working on in the past year will make it as full papers to CHI 2016! All are about the experience of a data-driven life in different contexts.

“It’s just my history isn’t it?”: Understanding Smart Journaling Practices.  Chris Elsden, Abigail C. Durrant, David S. Kirk.

The first comes from our work on diary-keeping and smart journals. From in-depth interviews, the paper reports on the highly diverse practices and motivations for keeping a record of one’s life, and considers the particular affordances of journals which melange all manner of media and data.

Metadating: Exploring the Romance of Personal Data. Chris Elsden, Bettina Nissen, Andrew Garbett, David Chatting, David S. Kirk, John Vines.

The second reports on the Metadating project – a speed dating event to speculate about how people would date with data, representing themselves and judging others. We use this unique and rich social context to propose a recalibration and design of data services for living with and sharing.

ResViz: Politcs and Design Issues in Visualizing Academic Metrics. Chris Elsden, Sebastian Mellor, Patrick Olivier, Pete Wheldon, David S. Kirk, Rob Comber.

The third describes ResViz, a visualization which makes a set of academic metrics public. The work raises a lot of politics, and design issues, in the way that ResViz can be a means to disrupt and challenge existing modes of management, and yet at the same time, may be seen to promote a culture of metrics. Following interviews with academics and key stakeholders in the University, we reveal a rich design space, with numerous tensions at play.


I’ll make these available and write more on them in the new year, but thanks go out to my co-authors and the reviewers who’ve supported the work so far!

A Published Journal Article!


The past week has been an especially pleasant one. Not just because the frenzied annual ritual of  CHI paper writing has passed, but on the very same Friday night, I had my first journal article published online!

You can find the article – “A Quantified Past: Towards Design for Remembering with Personal Informatics” – published in ‘Human-Computer Interaction’ with Taylor and Francis. Unfortunately it’s not open access, but if you would like to read it but can’t, then please do drop me an email. It should hopefully be in print before the end of the year.

It is a rather long article, describing fieldwork from the 1st year of my PhD, interviewing people with long histories of self-tracking data, from exercise data, to Last.Fm statistics, and money-tracking apps. It essentially lays the groundwork for my thesis and subsequent research, and introduces our concept of a ‘Quantified Past’.

I’ll write more about this article in the future, in the meantime, here’s the published abstract:

This paper questions how people will interact with a ‘Quantified Past’—the growing historical record generated by the increasing use of sensor-based technologies and in particular, personal informatics tools. In a qualitative study, we interviewed 15 long-term users of different self-tracking tools about how they encountered, and made meaning from historical data they had collected. Our findings highlight that even if few people are self-tracking as a form of deliberate lifelogging, many of them generate data and records that become meaningful digital possessions. These records are revealing of many aspects of people’s lives. Through considerable rhetorical data-work, people can appropriate such records to form highly personal accounts of their pasts. We use our findings to identify six characteristics of a quantified past and map an emerging design space for the long-term and retrospective use of personal informatics. Principally, we propose that design should seek to support people in making account of their data, and guard against the assumption that more, or ‘better’, data will be able to do this for them. To this end, we speculate on design opportunities and challenges for experiencing, curating and sharing historical personal data in new ways.

Remembering A Data-Driven Life

About The Blog

Writing, printing, daguerrotypes, tape recorders, VHS, Facebook Timelines, Google Glasses, Fitbits. Technology has always played a role in how we mark, record and remember our lives. Fundamentally, my ongoing PhD work, and hence this blog, is about looking to how the design of new technologies – specifically the trend towards a ‘data-driven life’ – will shape and be shaped by, experiences of remembering the past. Will you share a 25-year old Facebook profile with the next generation? And what will that generation make of SO MANY BABY PHOTOS? What will happen to all your emails, tweets, WhatsApps, check-ins and running data when you pass away? Will you be forever haunted by selfies with an ex? What will it mean in the long-term to know everywhere I’ve been in the last year and how many steps that took me?

I am by no means the first to consider such questions. Technologists have long fantasised about a memory machine such as Vannevar Bush’s 1945 envisioning of the ‘Memex’ – an ‘intimate supplement to memory’. Such dreams are manifested in modern times through ‘lifelogging’ with wearable cameras like the Narrative Clip (for moments that matter).  Richard Banks (The Future of Looking Back, 2011), Victor Mayor-Schonberger  (Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, 2009), and Jose van Dijck (Mediated Memory in the Digital Age, 2007) have all published books urging designers to understand the social roles and concerns of remembering in everyday life and cautioning against a simplistic notion of ‘total capture’ and creating a perfect artificial memory. My work extends this discussion by studying how we remember a data-driven life. One recorded not only in photos, mementos, diaries, and status updates – but in step counts, activity, sleep quality, goals, productivity, home occupancy, appliance use, locations, food intake to name just a few. Such a life is epitomised by the Quantified Self movement, which promotes ‘self-knowledge through numbers’. In fact the term ‘data-driven life’ comes from a notable 2010 article in the New York Times by WIRED editor Gary Wolf, proclaiming the Quantified Self.

In academic literature, the technologies which produce these records have been termed ‘Personal Informatics’. They emerge from, among other things; a confluence of low cost sensors in powerful smartphones or wearable devices; algorithms for sophisticated activity recognition and data visualisation; an ‘always-on’ and hyper connected culture; and arguably an individualistic and meritocratic society where a strong desire to better oneself is encouraged – indeed expected.


Self-tracking is usually present or future-focused – based on goals, making and breaking habits, optimising yourself, or monitoring health. By contrast, I’m looking back to investigate the long-term uses and consequences of what I’ve termed a ‘quantified past’. Somewhat akin to preserving ephemera like old receipts, scorecards, or train tickets, I argue that emerging ‘self-tracking cultures’ – and the technology to match – create through their everday and present use a potentially compelling record and experience of viewing the past.

A quantified past can be both detailed and granular,yet often quite absent of some telling context. The exceptional and the mundane are passively recorded, often without preference or prejudgement. Predominantly quantitative, and made sense of through infographics this past often possesses a sheen of objectivity which can lead us to question our own, reconstructive memories of important events.

In future posts, I’ll discuss more why I think remembering a quantified past is a distinct phenomenon, and ultimately consider how we might design interactions with this personal data towards meaningful experiences of remembering.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of my site. Past and present projects can be found here, a list of publications here, as well as some more about me.