The examined life: Personal uses for personal data


Human-Computer Interaction

A Journal of Theoretical, Empirical, and Methodological Issues of Interaction Science and System Design


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Call for Papers for the Special Issue on:

Special Issue Editors:

Dan Cosley (Cornell)

Elizabeth Churchill (Google)

Jodi Forlizzi (Carnegie Mellon)

Sean Munson (University of Washington)



The last 15 years have seen a huge increase in the amount and types of personal data that are now available about people and their activities, including:

  • Tracked personal data about fitness, nutrition, sleep, and mood

  • Personal archives: email, mobile phone records, photos, documents

  • Activity in and across physical settings (location data) and online settings such as  social media and other sites: Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr


So far, a dominant question has been how such personal data helps companies and researchers learn more about people–about human behavior in different contexts, and our actions as individuals and in groups. Until recently much less attention has been paid to how such data might help people themselves, and what could be done to establish greater personal value.


This picture is now beginning to change. The landscape is shifting with the rise of the Quantified Self movement and the emergence of affordable, usable new technologies that collect personal data that is both automatically sensed (FitBit, smartphone sensors) and/or manually journaled (Patients Like Me, Fitday). New systems are being adopted that encourage people to reflect on their past social media data; examples include TimeHop and Facebook’s On This Day. The goals of such systems are primarily to provide insight and value to end users, and only secondarily to the companies that create and maintain them.


This shift towards personal use leads to challenging new research questions. This special issue focuses on emerging research about how people might appropriate and use personal data for personal purposes such as:


  • Self-monitoring and self-understanding

  • Identity work, self-representation, reminiscing, and legacy

  • Behavior change that might promote physical and mental well-being

  • Developing and maintaining interpersonal and community relationships

  • Monitoring and managing their relationships with organizations and applications


We aim to bring together research that spans this wide set of issues to integrate work in different parts of this emerging space.


Submissions should address key questions in personal informatics. The following questions are intended to be inspiring, not limiting:


  • How can we appropriate personal data to make it personally useful or helpful?

  • How do personal data archives and systems enhance human capabilities, without increasing our dependency on them?

  • How do we shift from technologies that simply capture to those that allow us to understand and change ourselves?

  • What might be novel uses or applications for personal data?

  • What specific ethical or privacy challenges surround the study or design of systems that leverage personal data?

  • How might such uses of personal data change our relationship to agencies, companies, services and applications?


We welcome approaches that use a broad range of methods including system building and design work, qualitative analysis of and experiments using existing tools, and critical and theoretical reflections on the power and pitfalls of what our data might say about us.


Timeline for submissions and reviews:


  • Proposals due Oct 24 2015,

  • Responses back Dec 1 2015,

  • First drafts Apr 1 2016,

  • First reviews/responses Jun 15 2016,

  • Revisions Oct 15 2016,

  • Second reviews/responses Dec 15 2016,

  • Final papers due Feb 1 2017

Submission of Proposals

To help authors find a good fit, we will solicit proposals. Proposals should be about 1000 words and provide a clear indication of what the paper is about. Note that you must use the template provided on the journal website. Proposals will be evaluated for relevance to the special issue theme, and feedback will be given. Both proposal and full paper submissions should be submitted to the HCI Editorial site (mc.manuscriptcentral.com/hci). Follow the guidelines and instructions for submissions on the site. There is a place on the submission site to note that your submission is for the special issue. Full paper Special Issue submissions will be peer reviewed to the usual standards of the HCI journal.

For questions about the special issue, please send mail to si.hci.examinedlife@gmail.com.