The New Examined Life

Jamin Brophy-Warren:

In the first week of January, New York graphic designer Nicholas Felton will boil down everything he did in 2008 into charts, graphs, maps and lists.
The 2007 edition of his yearly retrospective notes that he received 13 postcards, lost six games of pool and read 4,736 book pages. He tracked every New York street he walked and sorted the 632 beers he consumed by country of origin.
Part experimentation, part self-help, such “personal informatics” projects, as they are known, are gathering steam thanks to people like Mr. Felton who find meaning in the mundane. At their disposal are a host of virtual tools to help them become their own forensic accountants, including Web sites such as Dopplr, which allows people to manage and share travel itineraries, and Mon.thly.Info, for tracking menstrual cycles. Parents can document infant feeding schedules with Trixie Tracker. And couples can go from between the sheets to spreadsheets with Bedpost, which helps users keep track of their amorous activities.
The objective for Mr. Felton and others is to seize data back from the statisticians and the scientists and incorporate it into our daily lives. Everyone creates data — every smile, conversation and car ride is a potential datapoint. These quotidan aggregators believe that the compilation of our daily activities can reveal the secret patterns that govern the way we live. For students of personal informatics, the practice is liberating because it shows that our lives aren’t random, and are more orderly than some might expect.