January 15th, 2009

The Examined Life

The start of a new year allows us all the chance to reflect on all the things we did in the last one. In this age of ubiquitous data collection methods, this habit manifests itself ways that can be exciting and sublime.

Perhaps the most classic example of this is the Feltron Annual Report. This year's edition is maybe less visually impressive than in years past, but it's still both a beautiful demonstration of information design and a fascinating look into someone else's life. Really spend some time going through his data and in your head you might find yourself imagining all those dinner parties, cab rides and drinks out with friends. If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many is a book of statistics worth? Can a year really been distilled into eight pages?

I found myself even more excited about Feltron's progress with his Daytum project. Still in private beta, it opens up the tools for any user to collect this same kind of data about themselves. Simple and elegant, just like the Feltron report itself. (Mycrocosm is another tool that does this.) And people are into it: "It's a natural progression from people sharing things like movies, photos and videos," says Dennis Crowley, founder of Dodgeball, an early social-networking service for mobile phones which was sold to Google in 2005. "What's left to share? Basic data." Even more: this year, Dopplr is sending personal annual reports to their members that show "data, visualisations and factoids" about their travels for 2008.

For my money, the most beautiful of these long zoom moments come in a form that is a hybrid between this data sharing and those more typical mediums from which it has progressed.

Every day in 2007 my friend Sonja took five seconds of video. She then edited them into a single, linear timeline and exhibited them in a Swiss storefront. The result was wonderfully effective. I can only imagine what kinds of detailed memories will be evoked when she goes back to watch it in a decade or so. Really, who needs a journal anymore? (I'm still waiting on her 2008 montage to be finished.)

For 2009, I have my eye on One Sound Each Day. It's these tiniest of details that can really snap the bigger picture into focus.

What other year-end recaps have you been enjoying?
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