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Stats Communications Science

The Numbers of a Life 98

Posted by Soulskill
from the plotting-out-a-person dept.
porsche911 points out a recent post by Stephen Wolfram in which he plots out data on his communication habits collected over a period of years — or in some cases, decades. He presents visualizations of the times and frequency of a third of a million emails since 1989, 100 million keystrokes since 2002, phone calls, meetings, modification times on his personal files, and even the number of footsteps he takes in a day. It provides some interesting correlations and insights into the structure of a person's life, and how that structure shifts over the years. He says, "What is the future for personal analytics? There is so much that can be done. Some of it will focus on large-scale trends, some of it on identifying specific events or anomalies, and some of it on extracting 'stories' from personal data. And in time I'm looking forward to being able to ask Wolfram|Alpha all sorts of things about my life and times—and have it immediately generate reports about them. Not only being able to act as an adjunct to my personal memory, but also to be able to do automatic computational history—explaining how and why things happened—and then making projections and predictions. As personal analytics develops, it’s going to give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives."
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The Numbers of a Life

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  • "As personal analytics develops, itâ(TM)s going to give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives."

    Here's a clue - if that would "give a whole new dimension to experiencing your life", you need to step away from the keyboard and get a life!.

  • Live life (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Friday March 09, 2012 @10:52AM (#39300621) Homepage

    Don't talk about life. Don't analyze life. And most importantly, don't view your own life from a 3rd person perspective 24/7. Observation and introspection is healthy. Too much of it is a waste of time. If you're having to think about your life all the time, it means your not living it. And if you're not living it, do something about it. Don't just sit on the sidelines.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday March 09, 2012 @10:59AM (#39300699) Journal
    Nothing in the budget for that; but the wonderful folks in the advertising and intelligence sectors will be glad to offer an array of custom-tailored consumer products and law enforcement solutions...
  • by shikitohno (2559719) on Friday March 09, 2012 @11:07AM (#39300777)

    Sure, my memory will fail me in the future (it's already crap now), but I'm okay with that. If I were living in a time where this sort of detailed breakdown and analysis were applied to everyone, I'd much rather forget things and not understand the reasons behind events 100% than have a database of every little detail of my life in it for anyone who'd pay to check it out. If one guy decides to do it for himself, I guess that's cool for him. But when you take this idea to its logical conclusion and start applying this to large groups of people, it sounds much too like Big Brother for me to be comfortable with at all.

    It also strikes me as the most likely way people would wind up living in some sort of Orwellian, totalitarian state. At first, they'll tell us of all the benficial things this could give us, and phase it in gradually. They might tell us of how it could help medicine, and we agree to let them start monitoring our food and drink consumption, along with our exercise habits. And when something good, such as a cure for some difficult to vanquish disease, comes as a result, people will see that it provided them some tangible benefit this time. And from there it will slowly bleed out into other areas of life. This slow, creeping invasion of privacy strikes me as a much more likely route to such a future than such a government having a revolution and things changing overnight.

    Personal analytics on large populations will ultimately suffer from the same problem so many schemes involving information and power do. If it happens, we'll probably have welcomed it for the perceived benefits to society we can get from it on a small scale, naively believing individuals in positions of power will be benevolent rulers. Most people will act shocked when this power is abused and steadily has its limits expanded. The rest of us will sit down and say, "When we were talking about this happening 20 years ago, we were the conspiracy nutjobs, eh? I'd say I told you so and leave you to deal with it, but instead I'll thank you for screwing me over too."

  • Re:Live life (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @11:15AM (#39300859)

    Horse shit.

    What if your happiness *is* statistics and analytics? As long as you're happy doing it and its pursuit makes you a living and gives the rest of us insight that lets us all benefit from a higher quality of life, I'd say that's a pretty damn good chunk of life. Of course it has to be balanced in a healthy way with interpersonal relationships but this same logic applies to biosciences and chemistry.

    Your "insightful advice" sounds more like condescension. It's dismissive of an entire class of meaningful occupations without considering their individual habits. Simply dismissing anyone who invests any time in personal analytics as "sitting on the sidelines" and wasting their lives is intellectually dishonest, even when hedged with, "Observation and introspection is healthy. Too much of it is a waste of time."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @12:25PM (#39301613)

    Dude, this is Stephen Wolfram. Storing all that data and making all those graphs provided him with more bliss than I experience from a year of lazy Sunday afternoons.

  • Re:Fascinating (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cachimaster (127194) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:06PM (#39302119)

    Looking at this data we can conclude that Wolfram's success has a lot to do with his wife being awesome and helping him with the family. I'm sure this is not an isolated result.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:17PM (#39302227)
    Leave him alone. He has a vision, he's doing what he likes, and apparently makes a good living at it. And there's a better-than-normal chance he'll find something interesting to the world at large, too.

Never test for an error condition you don't know how to handle. -- Steinbach

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