Sunday, March 11, 2012

The most simple-minded of possible responses

It has been rather warm, up to +5 °C, and wet. A feeling of spring approaching.

I found, via a tweet, an interesting posting written by Stephen Wolfram, titled "The Personal Analytics of My Life".

Wolfram seems to have gathered a lot of data about himself during the years - "I have what is probably one of the world’s largest collections of personal data" - including data about e-mails, phone usage, meetings, and so on.

And not only this but much more, here are two more examples: "I’ve captured every keystroke I’ve typed" and "I’ve been wearing a little digital pedometer that measures every step I take".

The examples provided by Wolfram are rather well done visualizations of complex data.

But what I wonder is, should this be something to get into? Would it be worth the trouble? Does one really learn something of value from this kind of data?

(Posting title is from the poem Personal by Tony Hoagland.)


Andreas said...

Hmm ... it takes a mathematician to record footsteps over the years :)

Pretty interesting though. I don't particularly regret having none such data, but I can relate to the fascination.

Markus said...

Oh well, now he has piles of data (and 90 comments), but to me this also seems to be "the most simple-minded of possible responses", as it doesn't proof anything, neither positive nor negative.

The quality of life is most probably a completely independent variable from all this data collected. But these make him at least a more "transparent" person, at least for such data-vacuum organisations like g**gle or the N*A.

Juha Haataja said...

@Andreas: I was also wondering what insight the data really provides in terms of self-knowledge etc.

And then I thought that soon it may be possible to record live video of everything one does, and there are a lot of ways of datamining such video feeds for information (sound, movement, faces, ...). But would this be at all useful - it would be like Google street view, in time and personal.

Juha Haataja said...

@Markus: It would be interesting to know what really has been his motivation for collecting this data, or is it just a kind of "if it is possible, do it" attitude.

And also interesting was that he had though that many other people would be doing the same... well, maybe there are some such people.

tonebytone (Flo) said...

Juha wrote: "...there are a lot of ways of datamining such video feeds for information (sound, movement, faces, ...). But would this be at all useful - it would be like Google street view, in time and personal."

I can think of a perfectly valid use for these videos - to keep monkeys in zoos entertained!

And also, all those mounds of data - he could make a good PhD thesis out of them! Surely this would impress a panel of statistics professors in some elite university!

Juha Haataja said...

@Flo: That was a good one, happy news for monkeys.

This reminds me of the Youtube error message: "A team of highly trained monkeys has been dispatched to deal with this situation."

Also, maybe I selected a posting title which put a somewhat negative spin on the topic. Personal analytics can't be all negative, can it?

James Weekes said...

I wear a pedometer to ensure that I walk at least 10,000 steps a day. It has helped me lose, and keep off, 75lbs (34 kg). I am not obsessive about it but it is a valuable tool.

The rest of my life goes mostly unrecorded and will remain so. I'm a photographer, so I record other people and other things. I keep a small journal that would bore anyone else to tears. The rest is play:-)

Juha Haataja said...

@James: 10,000 steps is quite a lot!

Taking photographs is a way of recording life - but I sometimes wonder what it is I'm in fact recording. Or if I am.