How much is too much when it comes to tracking our lives on the Web? Has the deluge of information online made us think differently about we see our world?
USA Today has a fascinating story today on those questions, and more.
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say that I can get a wee bit obsessive about tracking government information on the Web. After all, that’s part of my job description. But I hadn’t realized how much this story hit home until I thought about the time I’ve spent tracking purchases from Amazon or Apple. For example, when I bought my Apple laptop in 2005, I could track its movement from the factory in China to my doorstep in Oklahoma City. And I did. Obsessively.
Of course, I don’t think I’m quite to point where I track every instance of my life on the Web. That’s the subject of this story from Wired magazine. You can also check out The Quantified Self site here. And if you’re on Twitter, you can track your life using it with this project from data visualization site Flowing Data.
The prize for the most visually interesting personal metrics project has to go to graphic designer Nicholas Felton, who has been producing “annual reports” of his life since 2005. Here’s the latest cover from 2008:
Today’s info-chroniclers are just the latest in a long history of diarists and scientists who kept notes by hand. Nineteenth-century English inventor and statistician Francis Galton, who introduced statistical concepts such as regression to the mean, was an obsessive counter who created the first weather map and carried a homemade object called a “registrator” to, among other things, measure people’s yawns and fidgets during his talks. (Mr. Galton’s preoccupation with data, specifically with human hereditary traits, also yielded an unsavory by-product — eugenics.)
In 1937, a social research organization called Mass Observation in London used about 2,000 volunteers to develop an “anthropology of ourselves.” For more than a decade, participants recorded such things as their neighbor’s bathroom habits and what end of their cigarettes they tapped before lighting up. Personal tracking also showed up in “Cheaper by the Dozen,” a 1948 book about efficiency experts Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth and their attempts to track and optimize the daily routines of their 12 children (including when they brushed their teeth and made their beds).
Finally, the award for too much information has to go to the squirm-inducing Bedpost!
Written by Paul Monies