Tag Archives: media

Alberto Frigo: A 36-year Tracking Project


“I’ve been systematically tracking my life since the 24th of September, 2003.”

A little over 10 years ago Alberto Frigo embarked on an ambitious project, 2004-2040, to understand himself. Starting with tracking everything his right (dominant) hand has used, he’s slowly added on different tracking and documentation projects. Keeping the focus on himself and his surrounding has helped him connect to himself and the world around him.

Beside the more technical challenges ahead, I have learned how much we can engage in tracking and quantifying ourselves. I have learned that I am what I track and in this respect what I track shapes my life. I believe that every individual can activate him or herself to record his or her life and create a playful engagement with an otherwise dull surrounding. In my opinion then, it is a very healthy commitment as it makes us more aware as well as more engaged with our everyday life.

At the 2014 Quantified Self Conference Alberto led our second day opening plenary, which focused on “Tracking Over Time.” We invite you to watch his talk and read the transcript below to learn about his plans for the next 26 years and what hear what he’s learned through this process.

Good morning everyone and thank you for inviting me to this inspiring and well organized event! My name is Alberto Frigo, I am 34 years old, and I was born in a small village in the Italian Alps but I have spent most of my life abroad doing media research and living in Northern Europe, North America and China. Currently I live in Sweden where I have been systematically tracking my life since the 24th of September 2003. I clearly remember that day: it was very sunny in Stockholm, but I felt very frustrated since I was about to start a residency the following day and the wearable computer I had for two years designed to record my life was not working. I was walking through the city with my frustrations when I passed by a tiny store selling dusty photographic equipment. In the middle of it there was a brand new and tiny digital camera. I immediately gave up all my frustrations with the clumsy wearable I had so far been constructing, and just got that very camera to start photographing every object my right hand use.

It has been more then 10 years since I have started that project, to be precise today the 11th of May 2014, is my 3.882nd day I have been photographing every object my right hand uses. With this project, my idea is to track all my daily activities that I do through the very objects I utilize to accomplish them. In total, I have been photographing 295.032 activities, an average of 76 objects a day and one picture every 15 minutes, depending on how busy that day has been. I have also discovered that, if I keep up the project until I turn 60, I will have photographed 1.000.000 objects and could thus claim to have some kind of DNA code of my life, or at least of the core of my life as a mature individual. I like to see this code as made of a continuous sequence of repeating elements, the objects I use as the letters of an alphabet which can give rise to different patterns and understandings.

In this respect, I have embarked on a 36 years long project, from 2004 to 2040, and new kinds of self-tracking projects, or life-codes have naturally come about, mostly in order to compensate the photographic tracking of activities. After a few years, in 2005, I have also started to consider to keep track of myself looking at other perspectives and using different other media such as recording my dreams through writings and recordings the songs I listen to through musical notations. Additionally, I also started to keep track of my social surrounding and the weather. I thus ended up, for example, filming every public space in which I seat and keeping track of the wind when I am outdoor. At this point of time I am conducting 36 different projects to record my life… as many as the years I mean to undertake the project. 18 of these projects are actual tracking of either myself, or the surrounding or the weather and 18 of them are elaborations, like books, gadgets or exhibitions I make about them… not the least this very speech and other meta projects like a virtual memory cathedral I will present in the office hour section after lunch.

To give you an idea of what I am up to these days, I can tell you what I have accomplished so far. Beside recording 295.032 of my activities by photographing the objects my right hand has used with this camera, I have been tracking 12.360 dreams, 5.440 songs that I have heard and recognized using this phone to keep track of them, 620 portraits of new acquaintances using this camera, 285 square meters of discarded objects picked from the sidewalk using this pouch to collect them, 1.512 news of casualties, 15.660 films of public spaces where I seat using this video-camera, 7.560 drawings of ideas, 2.760 recordings of thoughts while walking alone using this recorder, 1.704 shapes of clouds and so forth. By the way this the USB where all my work is stored, always on me.

It was not immediate to be able to track so many things at once; I have learned that one has to start with something basic and simple and then add up to new perspectives and tracking technologies, preferably crafting his or her framework. “From one thing comes another” then but I am also interested to keep up all the projects, more as some sort of a challenge in addition to simply a tool to later make sense of my life. I feel in this respect like the character of a computer game, with a mission to accomplish and this is really my drive in life, conduct these 36 tracking projects till I am 60, in 2040 then, 26 years ahead of me. 26 years in which new challenges arise such as the fact that the technology I have been deploying, like my camera, is already out of production. Well, one ought to act providently and myself, I have got a box full of these refurbished cameras… so lets just hope the operating system now won’t change too drastically in the coming years!!

Beside the more technical challenges ahead, I have learned how much we can engage in tracking and quantifying ourselves. I have learned that I am what I track and in this respect what I track shapes my life. I believe that every individual can activate him or herself to record his or her life and create a playful engagement with an otherwise dull surrounding. In my opinion then, it is a very healthy commitment as it makes us more aware as well as more engaged with our everyday life.

Saying this however, I have to warn you that it is important to give priorities also in what we track. I mostly give priorities to the tracking relating to myself, giving less priority to other forms of tracking, particularly to those forms that are more dependent to the social surrounding and I cannot control. With these priorities in mind I am rather positive that I can succeed in my self-exploration and the exploration of the world through myself, sharing my experience as time passes by and new insights are gained. I really hope my ten years old experience and commitment can be of inspiration of you. Please feel free to approach me so that I can photograph you as my 621st new acquaintance. Thank you!

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Chloe Fan on Visualizing Movies She Has Seen Since 2001

Chloe Fan has kept all of her movie ticket stubs since 2001. Inspired by a minimalism streak, she digitized them all and created some cool visualizations. She learned her movie-watching patterns: by day of week, time of day, IMDB movie rating, price, location, who she was with, etc. In the video below, Chloe walks through her most embarrassing movies, how her tastes have changed over time, and other fun things. You can check out her visualizations here. (Filmed by the Pittsburgh QS Show&Tell meetup group.)

Chloe Fan – Movies I’ve Seen in Theaters Since 2001 from Quantified Self Pittsburgh on Vimeo.

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Ethan Zuckerman: Tracking My Media Diet

Ethan Zuckerman, the co-founder of Global Voices and the writer of a wonderful blog called my heart’s in accra is doing an experiment, and is asking for advice and collaborators. The experiment is to track his “media diet.” The project is related to Ethan’s argument that we don’t have very reliable intuitions about the kind of media we consume.

I’ve made the case – in my recent TED talk
and elsewhere – that many of us overestimate the amount of diverse,
international information we encounter through the internet and other
communications networks. We run the danger of being “imaginary
cosmopolitans”, convinced we’re encountering information from all
corners of the world, while we might be trapped in homogenous echo

One of the interesting, valuable things about this experiment is that Ethan has already had more experience than most people tracking media consumption. Now he is turning his attention to the problem of self tracking media. We will all learn from this.

Media diaries aren’t new – take an intro communications class at many
universities, and you’re likely to be asked to keep one. They tend to
be pretty superficial
- it requires some serious obsessiveness to log the individual stories
you encounter, rather than writing down “NPR – 7am – 7:20am. And the
process of keeping a diary tends to shape your behavior – for the month
Rachel and I were a Nielsen family (years back), we watched vastly more
public television than we do in an average month.

It’s easier than ever to keep a diary with tools like Your Flowing Data,
a Twitter-based service that allows you to send direct messages via the
web or SMS. I just logged “d yfd listened WNNZ 0750 – 0830″, a syntax
that I hope will let me start collecting information on what media I
encounter offline, and who I interact with in the real world.

But what I really want is data on the dozen or more stories I heard
on NPR during that morning drive – coding each in terms of subject and
geography would mean either logging while driving or writing a tool that
turns the name of a broadcast media source and an interval into a
stream of metadata.

If you have tried this yourself, please pipe up with suggestions. For more details about what Ethan is doing read the full post:

Media Tracking and the Quantified Self

Below is a wonderful TED talk by Ethan about how easy it is to make mistakes about the nature of the media we consume. His ideas about “imaginary cosmopolitanism” tell us something important about how errors in how we understand our own behavior may also blind us to important things going on the world. 


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Quantifying Now

Sprint’s commercial tries to sell its 3G network by quantifying “now.” Does this mean it’s the beginning of a trend, or the end of one?

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The New Examined Life – Self-Tracking Story in WSJ

Today’s story on self-tracking and self measurement in the Wall Street Journal featured Alexandra Carmichael, the co-founder of Cure Together, a platform for open source health research. (Alexandra is a regular at the QS Show&Tell.)

CureTogether is a community site where members can share information about their health. Alexandra has an excellent post on the Cure Together blog about how her site fits into disease research. Although Alexandra is a leader in building tools for self-tracking, the WSJ story focusing on her own self-tracking project. Here is the key paragraph:

Some of the new data collectors hope to make better
decisions about their activities and improve their quality of life. For
the last four months, Alexandra Carmichael, the founder of a health
research Web site called CureTogether in San Francisco, has been
tracking more than 40 different categories of information about her
health and personal habits. In addition to her daily caloric intake,
her morning weight and the type and duration of exercise she performs,
she also tracks her daily mood, noting descriptions such as “happiness”
and “feeling fat.”

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A quick overview of the emerging culture of self-tracking ran in the Washington Post the other day. Called “Bytes of Life: For Every Move, Mood and Bodily Function, There’s a Web Site to Help You Keep Track.”  The subtitle is a gross exaggeration, although in time it will be true.

Right now there are a handful of sites that assist individuals in their efforts to monitor their lives. Functions include exercise, moving outside, eating, sleeping, sex, crapping, working, writing, and driving. There seems to be a new site a month, with no end in sight. Every conceivable activity that can be measured and tracked will be measured and tracked.

These sites allow you to easily input your data, then graph it visually, then share it if you want, then discuss it with kindred spirits. One of the sites featured, for example, is My Monthly Cycle, which tracks menstrual cycles, primarily for pregnancy hopefuls. Users add all kinds of data (those little hearts in the chart below are exactly what you think they are). The website charts are dispensed –and of course shared!


The article pokes a little fun at the nerdiness of personal data obsessiveness.

For what possible reason would otherwise sane people dedicate brainpower and man-hours to charting experiences at which they themselves were already present?

And not meaningful things, either. Not things like, “Proposed to future wife at 7:02 p.m., Aug. 15, 2006,” but things like, “Ate three green beans at 7:02 p.m., Aug. 15, 2006.” And not just occasionally, but lots of times every single day, gobs and gobs of binary data representing everything from the last time you slept past 10 a.m. to the song you were listening to at noon last Oct. 12.

Self-tracking is partly about the recording, but also as much about the analysis that goes on after the recording. The apparent meaninglessness of data recorded over time is actually what makes it profound.

Indeed, in science — as well as our lives — it is often the seemingly insignificant bits of data that end up, after inspection, being the most important bits.  That’s why its not crazy to collect massive amounts of data from our own lives. Data storage is cheap. Reliable base lines of your life’s habits can be valuable. Why not track everything?

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