Data Cartography: The Journey to Existence Mapping
For three years Chris has been using low-friction data collection to capture hundreds of elements of his life into a repository for search, visualization and analysis. Two years ago he started incorporating as many events, devices, sensors, applications, and services that he could into his life. Currently he has over 300 systems that simultaneously monitor everything that he does whether it be his home, his work, or his play. Chris realized that his data was starting to look like a unique pattern, like a topographical map. In this video, he talks about his journey to existence mapping.
I used to write to states and have them send me the maps from their states and then hang them on my walls. And I would picture people inside the maps, and I would picture elaborate cities, so I was probably slightly delusional when I shared this with my friends that I want to do this. So when I finally saw the movie The Sixth Sense, I realised something I could relate to when it came to Cole Sear because I also saw things that didn’t exist. In this case it wasn’t dead people. It was data, either imagined or real but it was that that was very important to me.my journey started with my doctor four years ago, who forgot my test results so I kind of got upset so I started feverously logging everything I did when I went to see him.
Finally today when I go to see him he’s like why are you here, you can just tell me what’s wrong with yourself.
Two years ago I started incorporating as many events, devices, sensors, applications, and services that I could into my life. Currently I have over 300 systems that simultaneously monitor everything that I do whether it be my home, my work, or my play.
I realised all of a sudden that all of this data was starting to take a very unique pattern. It was starting to overlay each other much like a topographical map. So pictures became not just photographs but they became data experiences, and I realized that my life’s journey was actually being measured.
It was when I saw Amber Case in South by Southwest in 2012 that I realized what I was kind of serendipitously doing with something called Sousveiliance, so I was observing the observer and collecting as much data as I could, but it was getting to be quite exhausting doing this. Because when I looked at the services I was using there was hundreds of them and nobody should have to go through this many screens to figure out what’s important to you. this is a form of slavery that we need to figure out how to get out of.
So I wanted to fix that. I wanted to move away from this very old system. And then I saw Aaron Pique present at cyborg camp last November and he introduced me to the concept of low friction data collection, and I thought oh my gosh I have a word for it. I’m not – okay I am crazy, but I have a word for it. So I started looking at all these systems.
The first thing I did was every single piece of data that I collect it gets protected. So it gets locked away in a web based system in a text format. So it doesn’t matte rif it’s the light or the dogs, or the truck, it gets locked away and protected so that I can search it and find the information later on.
The next thing I do is every piece of data, again whether it’s the food I’m eating or the exercise all goes into spreadsheets. So simultaneously I collect it and I reflect it back onto a spreadsheet so that I can do charts and graphs on it.
Probably the most compelling thing that people know me for is then I want to visualize it. so my entire day is monitored in my Google calendar. The colors represent the different types of life streams that actually happen within any given day. So like I said at any given time three or four hundred different things happen to me simultaneously and they are low fractioned logged back. So I created a data hierarchy of needs so I could toggle my calendar on and off to see where I was actually doing well in my life and where my life was actually struggling. And I could start to focus goals on those areas by using the visualization representation and the calendaring.
But then just like Cole I needed more help, so I didn’t have a doctor who was also slightly crazy but I did have other tools. And one of those tools was going back to my childhood and realizing what maps meant to me, because if I looked at maps I noticed that they had layers of information.
So I broke down my types of services I was using. Every single application, every single service, every single device, every single sensor and looked for ways that I could get the information out of them as easily as possible, which was no easy feat.
Everything from Yahoo Pipes to RSS feeds, to fake Twitter account that share stuff to bogus accounts that can be picked up, to APIS, to Zappier I am a hack on crack. So I just can’t get enough of the stuff, and I think it’s a shame that we don’t make it more available to ourselves and each other.
What was really profound for me was that I realised that all of these data points actually created a platform for existence. So I could almost use a tic-tac-toe board to make things trigger in my life, and responds to the data around me, so my world became very interesting when I started doing that.
I started things like do it yourself recipes, ambient light recipes, noise recipes by biobeats to create music from my data, and even professional lighting recipes. So the more information I can get the better.
But just like in the movie, There Six Sense when I see the color red, you know that you are having a brush with the undead world, I also noticed there were signals when I was having brushes with profound data moment in my personal life.
Probably the most profound data moment I had was when I realised that I could manipulate the environment around me, based on the data I was generating. Because I think this is a way we can solve one of the major economic problems we’re about to face, and that’s the tremendous amount of people who are my age who are under employed or unemployed.
The next thing I found was by layering these pieces of data together as Aaron said, you know my food, my activity and my spending all on one picture, so I need to see that together so I can understand the patterns. It’s really cheaper food that makes me fat and not the how much of it I eat. Then I noticed the really crazy things, so watching Project Runway, two episodes in a row actually makes me eat worse the second or third day. Air quality sensors and my home actually trigger really bad sleepless night when my cleaning people come.
I has lost 70 pounds and not 65, thank you for the extra 5 pounds this week. That really comes from behaviors and not food or exercise, but environmental conditioning using the data from my life.
If my house is a certain temperature and humidity, I actually drive my truck much worse; so I accelerate faster and I break faster.
So again, having the data available to you so you can see them together makes a huge difference, and I’m hoping we can do this. Probably the most profound thing I think is my data being collected as one thing, but my data having a relationship with itself is another.
So the systems within my life start to speak to each other, and I can now pick up those systems as they start to have conversations, which kind of moves this kind of weird theory in my mind.
The other thing I learned was over the last nine months when I kind of came out of my data closet that Cyborg Camp, people are profoundly interested in this. Everybody wants to talk to me, and all I really did was exploit the world around me and make use of it in some tangible way.
The dark side of all this is I’m fortunate, so I have tremendous resources when it comes to time and financial, and just brainpower and I know smart people. And I’m afraid we are entering an age of almost a data Elysium, where if we are not very careful we are going to end up with the haves and have-nots. And for me that’s really important that we avoid this kind of alternate reality, where only special. People can access to data and only these special people can understand data. Because I’m not special, I’m just like you.
Finally, my dogs have always been the cornerstone of my life. Rocco is someone I careful and love very much, and being able to see Rocco, my home, and my truck, and my devices in my home, and even you know things around my house all have a relationship with each other, gave me a profound awakening that I have never experienced in any level of spirituality in anything I have explored. I understand now that I am connected to everything, and everything is connected to me. It just needs to be collected.
It means a lot for me to be here, last year I sat in the audience and I was just overwhelmed by everyone who I met. And all the experiences I have had since then have led to this day.
So thank you so much for this community, and thank you to Gary and the conference. Without you, I wouldn’t have been able to have a relationship with myself, so thank you.