Slow data and the pleasure of automated nostalgia


I’ve been playing around with Daytum a bit today, and its reminded me how playful and delightful personal data can be. I’ve often thought about getting Nike + or other personal training systems, but I think I prefer whimisical, story-telling data more than the hard-core productivity data. The Dopplr annual report is lovely because it encourages reflection and narrativisation, rather than instant action.

I think time is the crucial factor here. Systems that give you real-time data cause you to stress, as the assumption is that you need to act on the information NOW! The Dopplr annual report and Daytum encourage a slower, more reflective accumulation of data that you can make sense of retrospectively. The call to action is not ‘What are you doing?’ but rather  ‘Remember when?’.

Facebook is far too in-the-now for me – it’s  great if you’re there all the time, but its emphasis being contemporaneous is tiring. Twitter I can just about cope with, partly because natural eddies of conversation and reflection pop up all the time, and the strict format means its easier to follow. I hate automated updates in twitter, and have offended at least one friend by calling them out for spamming their feed with automatic blog or picture updates.

I’m much more interested in automated nostalgia than automated presence – data feeds that gradually acrue in your wake, rather than constantly dragging your focus on to the next five minutes. Then the next five minutes. Then the next five minutes… There are a million ways to interpret our data histories, and many of them depend on a period of reflection and absorption, rather than Just In Time decision-making.

Nicholas Feltron’s gorgeous Feltron Annual Report for 2007 is a particularly fine example of the formula – we might express it as Data+Time=Story. In this case, beautiful design helps. I commissioned Live/Work to do a research project on personal data when I was at the BBC in around 2007, and they came up with a similar idea as a way for the BBC to represent each license-fee payer’s use of BBC resources. It was a handsome, bound book with beautiful visualisations of the content and your use of it. Unfortunately, it seems the project went nowhere after I left the beeb.

Even earlier, when I was commissioning Digital Art projects in Huddersfield, we gave Lucy Kimbell some early research funding for a project that became The Lix Index. Lucy was way ahead of the personal data/spime curve, and created a slightly tongue-in-cheek art project that applied business management and financial data models to her personal life, career, and social network. The various data sets she covered included orgasms and bad dreams. That’s a good example of the kind of data that you can only really share in slow way. If you want to tell me in real time on twitter about your orgasms or bad dreams that’s great, but, if its allright with you, I’ll wait for the book version.


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