Past Present Future
social life & social media
Sara M. Watson
Sara Watson talks about how she uses digital time capsules like Timehop to resurface some of her archived personal data. She also talks about her family history of self tracking and genealogy. Tracking and reflecting on that data gives her a sense of time, place, history, and context.
Timehop | timemap
And I’m not going to talk about my research today, actually I would like to talk about my own QS activity. So this is the October meeting from last fall. And that was the first Quantified Self meetup that I actually attended.
I had known about the Quantified Self community for a while, and I had been tracking a few things on my own, but I hadn’t really identified what QS was all about and I think there are a couple of different reasons for that. One of which was illustrated by this piece that maybe some of you had seen from this last weekend in the Sunday Times. It’s a little small here, but Sara Watson records every detail of her life.
That’s just wrong, and I think a lot of media coverage tends to focus on the kind of extreme cases, and turns people like me into extreme cases. I actually convinced it’s not a nuanced view of all the ways that people participate in Quantified Self.
But I think there is actually a reason for that, which is embedded in the way we are talking about what QS is all about, and that’s in this motto self knowledge through numbers. I think a lot of people get hung up on the numbers bit and not on the quantified part.
But to me what I’ve heard Gary and Vanessa that they are trying this new framing which is deriving personal meaning from personal data. And that really resonates with me, because what I’ve been interested in is that the fact that we are all generating all kinds of data whether it’s transactional, or social media data. All of that is useful and valuable to us, but it’s not necessarily quantified data.
And so just to give a quick background about the things I am tracking. The top row are a lot of things that I classify as management tools. So it’s pretty standard consumer stuff for health and fitness management. The second level I classify as my like memory outsourcing. So Wunderlist, I’m a huge list maker and it’s kind of where I keep everything that comes to the top of my mind. Evernote is more for long form things like an article that made sense to me or notes that I’m working on for my own thesis.
And the next level is I know a lot of you know about Lift, and this year I’ve been working with Gratitude Journal, which was helping me through a little bit of a rough patch in my dissertation work, where I was thinking about the good things in my day, and really integrating some of those things and focusing on them and prioritizing them.
But this last row, I think maybe it’s contentious in the QS community because most people might not think of these apps as something that’s really about QS and it’s more social media.
But to me these are actually where I’m spending a lot of time. This says something about my social network and it says something about what I’m reading and what I’m sharing. It says something about where I’ve been, and what I’ve seen, and what I’ve thought was interesting.
But the reason is this doesn’t get counted as Quantified Self is because it is often filtered in this really structured way in the way that these apps are designed. And so for me to make any sense of my Facebook data, I have to scroll through pages and pages of the 10 years or almost 10 years that I’ve been on Facebook since 2004. And that’s not really useful and it’s not kind of high living things about what’s in there and embedded in my data that I’ve already created.
So enter TimeMap. It’s the app that I want to talk a little bit about today. Timemap is giving you from all your social media things like Facebook and Twitter, and foursquare, and it’s giving you a this day in history view from as many days as you have content for. So for me I might get something that has one year, three years, seven years back.
And what really interesting about this app is that it’s taking this data that you have already created and reinterpreting it for you in a way that makes it kind of more present and it kind of resurface is this content that you’ve already created.
So I wanted to share a couple of examples of why I’m finding this to be meaningful to me. One of which is its pointing out these really significant moments of my life. So this example is where I was about to leave one job and start a new job. And that was really significant in my life, and I remembered that transition in June 3 years ago, and that being an exciting summer for me.
This is an example of how Timemap shows me these cyclical patterns that I can have in my life. And so I have been spending a lot of time with Rod for the past couple of years, and I was leaving to move to China with my husband for a year while he was doing his dissertation field research. But it turns out there’s other pages where I was just arriving and going to China, and then the same time next year I was just getting back to Boston and hearing Mandarin throughout the subways in Boston and feeling like this weird sense of time and place, and some where I had been and where I was going.
So I really like these moments of serendipity where these kind of cyclical things are happening throughout my data.
This isn’t new. We’ve done this and this is a project that I found on Pinterest, where they are creating this analogue version of the same date in history and it’s been active choice to make that description for that day. But the idea isn’t new.
And I wanted to share this quote from a book that you might all actually enjoy and it’s called These Days by Jeff Chang, and he’s kind of actually predicting the development of Timemap at the same time he was writing the book and they were working on Timemap, and in the book it’s called Capsule but it’s the same idea, and I really like the way they describe it in the pitch in the book.
We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries through the years, and as we are experiencing these days we use them as anchors to help us remember and recollect, but they are just arbitrary measures of time. There’s nothing more than us moving time onto itself.
And so, I notice this happening in my own life when I called my mom for Mother’s Day. I was actually in Amsterdam for the Quantified Self conference, and I was calling from Amsterdam and she said last year you were calling from Tomching, and this year you are calling from Amsterdam, where are you going to be next year. And I realise that I will actually be back home in Boston, and so we made plans to spend Mother’s Day together.
But then this got me thinking, wow this is so similar to what I had been finding compelling about this Timemap app. And then I started thinking my mom tracks are a lot of things to, is there some like to mimic, to predisposition to tracking. And so I started thinking about the things that she tracks, and I started wondering if there was any difference from what she does versus what I do.
And so, my mom has been involved with something called Talks and it’s a lot like Weight Watchers, and I started thinking that’s not a lot different from how I’m using myfitnesspal for example. She is also a big list maker as I am So she keeps spreadsheet of all the species of plants that she collects and has in her garden, but there is like data about the things that she collects. Similarly, she is a big bird watcher, so she has a couple of different lists. She has a life list of these species that she has seen for the first time that she has seen them. She has a list for the year of new birds, and she has lists for the states that’s she’s seen them in and it goes on.
So I am kind of thinking, okay there is this family trait for list making and kind of maybe OCD, and then I thought well my mom is probably not the only one birding, it’s actually her whole family. So this is my mom and her siblings birding like somewhere in Colorado maybe, and they are all sharing this hobby together but they are also kind of comparing their lists, and cross referencing their list when they’ve been out together that day. So it’s actually this kind of family sense of tracking.
And my aunt on the far right, she has turned into our family tracker. So she has collected 16 generations of family and genealogy data, and that has obviously taking a lot of effort and a lot of research.
But what’s interesting about this is that I have a better sense of kind of my own personal family history from what she has collected. So we go about the fact that we are related to people who were trialed in the Salem witch trials, or the people who came over on the Mayflower. So that kind of gives me a sense in coming to the UK for my time in school was this circular notion of like this is historical and important in my own kind of context.
I also wanted to share this slide because there’s three generation of Sara’s here, and I didn’t realise that I came from a family of Sara’s historically. I’m obviously not named from any of them necessarily and Sara is a common name, but this kind of gives me some sense of there are a lot of Sara’s in my family history.
The other thing about this genealogy is that when my husband and I got married my aunt emailed me and said you know what is his birthday and where was he born, and in that moment and even although it was a simple email it was a very tactical question. It gave me a really strong sense of the importance of my husband joining my family, and joining the family tree in this kind of heavy way.
So, this brings me back to why we’re doing what we’re doing, why do we track these things, what meaning do we get out of these things. For me, it’s a lot about context. It’s a lot about history. It’s a lot about my sense of time and space.
And so I really like this screenshot and it’s a little faint here, but it says, this is part of the scrolling when you are loading the app and it says, one year from now you’ll remember the time you read about one year ago today. And so I just want to close by saying this will be the day that I shared my context and I will remember that next year.