Living With Data


Earlier this week an old friend of mine sent me a message outlining a request. In an effort to get back to his habit of drawing and creating he was reaching to a few of his friends for some inspiration and ideas.

Simple premise. I’m inviting important people that I admire, respect, and care about to gift me one creative brief—a specific, attainable objective—to complete by my next birthday. Example: Some sort of insight as to why people do something, don’t do something, or another aspect of human behavior. Think, “I want x because y”.

What follow is slightly edited version of my response. I’m sharing it here because a) I too want to be more productive as well b) I want to practice writing and publicly exploring my thoughts and c) sharing is fun.

As you know, I’m very interested and engaged with what it means to live in a world of near ubiquitous personal data. The Quantified Self movement is a key piece of this and we’ve seen some amazing work by individuals and institutions (commercial and not). We’ve observed that the power that drives real insights can be directly traced to informative data visualizations. However, I feel that we are still in the infancy of what it means to really live with personal data. See this talk by Lev Manovich to see how little our data visualization techniques have changed.) (Did you know the bar chart has been around since 1778?)

I’d like to challenge you to explore what it means to Live with Data. The conversation around QS typically centers around the reduction in autonomy and a move towards algorithmically driven lives (e.g. computers telling us what to do and when to do it based on our personal data). I’ve seen this expressed as Living By Numbers (Data). However, I feel this misses a big piece of the cultural shift. What happens when we Live With Data as an piece of our human experience? (Some might say that the difference between “by” and “with” isn’t meaningful, or I’m being pedantic. Words have meaning and how we use them is important.) Data can live, breath, and communicate (listen and talk) with us. But, what form does that take?

I’d like to challenge you to explore this idea. Art and creative design can be a big influence on this concept. Here are a few examples of ideas I’ve been thinking of lately:

If you’ve read this far I’d love to hear what you think. What are the ideas that come to mind when you hear “Living With Data?” I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 

As always, comments are welcome. This post is available on Github if that’s your style, and Medium if you like that platform. Free free to connect with me on twitter or email.