“The Data-Driven Life” and our relationship with information.

by Claire Staley

Searching through the @longreads Twitter feed, I found a tweet that grabbed my attention: a New York Times magazine article entitled “The Data-Driven Life. I was initially attracted to the article because the title itself raises implications about changing relationships with data and how we share it. The article explores this subject.

The first paragraph describes the breadth of human error: we’re all prone to it, and it’s part of the human experience. We are largely creatures of habit and of intuition. However, this article is concerned with some outliers, the people who rigorously track an astonishing variety of habits and activities, and the technology and social framework that enables it.

Several people are profiled, people who use numbers to track their activities. An English software designer methodically quits his coffee habit by methodically plotting numbers, and then jumps right back on the caffeine train when he realizes–through rigorous tracking–that coffee consumption increases his focus. A twenty-something in Indiana sought to track how much time he spent doing the dishes of a roommate, and ended up keeping a digital record of his actions, creating a digitally accessible history of his life. People due it to monitor sleep patterns, alcohol consumption and diet. They do it to self-experiment with insomnia or sleep apnea.

The implications that immediately jumped into my head were the “me-me-me” mentality that comes from social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter (I almost linked those sites for the sake of seeming cool and tech-savvy, but chances are that everyone in J361 has those sites bookmarked [or open right now]). The micro-update that’s become a cultural norm among users, that informs our networks what we’re doing, when and where we’re doing it, and how we feel about it. It’s normal, for better or worse, and it’s a culture bred by technology. The article addresses this idea in identifying where, exactly, this obsessive data recording comes from. According to the author, the advent of this type of data collection is explained by advances in technological sensor devices (such as sophisticated pedometers), the ubiquity of the powerful computing devices we call cell phones, and the normalization of the overshare caused by social media.

The article raises interesting sociological implications by examining some unusual cases of people who obsessively record data for whatever purposes. The author uses stylized language, but the sentences are still short and journalistic. The narrative is broken down into small paragraphs, and outside links to examples and other articles are included to enrich the experience of the reader. It’s an interesting read, because of the quirky examples of people who participate in this sort of data collection and the reasons for which they do it, and also because of the sociological implications about how our activities and attitudes (and the way we analyze them) are shaped by technology.

The 140-character regime is here.

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