Businesses are increasingly interested in “digitizing of the individual” (by which they mean creating a comprehensive digital record). This trend coincides with a rise in popularity of self-monitoring apps de-signed to assist curious individuals in better understanding some of their bodily functions and an associated trend toward personalized medicine. This trend toward digitization in people’s private lives is relevant as it may suggest lower barriers to digitizing at work, where the capturing of person-related data tends to be more regulated than the use of similar technologies at home. We are interested in the constraints inherent in modelling of real-world phenomena; that is, data can only provide approximations of the phenomena investigated, and these approximations will inevi-tably emphasize some characteristics while de-emphasizing others. Rather than proceeding down the path of suggesting ways to push digitization efforts further, we use this essay to turn the perspective around by focusing on what a digitized version of an individual is unlikely to tell us, regardless of the level of detail. As such, the essay is not a how-to guide but a cautionary tale reminding the reader that electronically collected data is more like clues instead of complete stories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)599-610
Number of pages12
JournalLibrary Trends
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Library and Information Sciences


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